The New Meaning of “Open Adoption”

I read an interesting article that raised some important questions at . The article was about a woman who had twins after IVF (in vitro fertilization) treatment. She had 4 frozen embryos left from her last IVF treatment and she decided she did not want any more children. She chose to donate her embryos to a couple who were infertile. Her donation was "open" in the sense that she requested if children resulted from her donation she wanted to maintain contact by phone, email and ongoing photographs of the child.

The notion of open adoption is not new. People who adopt children often have an agreement with the biological parent that there will be some type of agreed upon ongoing contact between the child, the adoptive parents, and the biological parents. This may evolve or change with time. The phenomenon of open embryo donation is a relatively recent concept.

The experience of infertility may influence some people to offer their embryos for altruistic reasons. They have empathy and compassion for other people who have been unsuccessful at having a child. They want to help others battling infertility and prefer this to donating their embryos for research or to having them destroyed. Some decide they cannot afford to have additional children. The science and technology associated with fertility treatment continues to improve success rates for creating and storing embryos.

Couples considering this type of "adoption" process need to carefully consider their comfort level with somebody else raising a child that is genetically theirs. They also need to consider what information they want to share with their existing children. What role, if any, do they want to have in the lives of these future children?

The article discusses the legal challenges this type of arrangement presents. "Adoption laws only cover children already born, so families involved in embryo donation usually sign forms dictating "ownership" of the embryos." The article goes on to say that some choose to legally adopt their child after birth to ensure legality. It is very important to consult an attorney that specializes in family building law to ensure that the legal rights of all parties are clearly outlined and properly implemented.

There are many obvious similarities between the donation of an embryo and the traditional adoption of a child who has been born. Biological parents who opt for adoption may struggle with somebody else raising their child. The adoptive parents may not want to retain any type of face to face relationship with the biological parents for a variety of reasons. For many, the drive to learn more about where we come from helps to understand the person we have become today. The issue of disclosure is critical in these "open adoption" instances. There needs to be mutual agreement between genetic and adoptive parents about who, what, when, and how, information is disclosed to the child about how he/she has become a member of the adoptive family

These are difficult and thought provoking questions where the decisions impact many lives. There are no right or wrong answers. It is hard to anticipate what the future wishes of your adoptive child might be. People who choose to be embryo donors must examine their own values and beliefs and in cases of this type of "open adoption" consider the wishes of the adoptive families involved. Together you can create a culture of mutual respect, acceptance, and a level of comfort for all involved parties. The choices you make and the messages they send will help influence how your future child adapts and identifies his or her family.

Iris Waichler, MSW, LCSW, has a Master's Degree in Social Work and has been a licensed clinical social worker for over 30 years. She has done workshops, individual, and group counseling with people experiencing infertility. Ms. Waichler is the author of Riding the Infertility Roller Coaster: A Guide to Educate and Inspire. She currently writes freelance infertility and health related articles.

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