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Think. Discuss. Act. Adoption

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Review: Adopting Embryos

Belluck, P. (12 June, 2005). The New York Times


(Download Adopting Embryos overview as a PDF)

The possibility is at first glimpse promising: take the extra embryos created during in vitro fertilization treatment for one couple and donate them to other couples who are having trouble conceiving children. But the reality, says Belluck, is more complicated.

Most couples who initially say they are willing to donate do not follow through. According to a 2003 survey of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, of the estimated 400,000 frozen embryos in existence today only 2 percent were being donated to other couples, and 3 percent were given to research.

The reasons may be medical and/or psychological. Potentially donating couples appear to grow uneasy with the idea of what the coming child might eventually make of his/her strange origins. There may also be genetic or medical conditions that preclude donation. Further, on average only a third of the embryos that pass through the thawing process are going to result in a successful pregnancy.

The donating parents are caught between the desire to help out other struggling couples, while also wanting to hold onto some control over the fate of the embryo. This results in a marked hesitancy to go along with anonymous-recipient situations. In Dr. Linda Applegarth’s fertility center at the Weill Medical College of Cornell University there are 50 couples interested in donating, but currently only two sets of embryos have actually been made available.

Questions for Reflection and Discussion

  1. Have you or couples you know experienced problems with infertility?
  2. Were you aware of the practice of freezing embryos?
  3. What do you think the decision process should look like for couples who are considering donating their extra embryos?
  4. Should recipient anonymity be a standard practice?
  5. What might the emotional impact, if any, be on a child that grows up as an ‘adopted’ embryo?


The situation described by this article is one in which the practical application of what science has made possible turns out to be confusing and unreliable. Investigating the question of what is to be done with extra embryos is a task of discernment couples and medical professionals need to begin before electing to make use of the science.

 Christopher S. Yates
© 2018 CYS

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