Family formation through the use of donated embryos – a modern alternative to adoption.
What are donated embryos?
Donated embryos are embryos created by couples who, had difficulty conceiving an ongoing pregnancy and were successful in having a family through IVF. Some couples have unused embryos in storage and do not wish to destroy their embryos. These couples can decide to donate their embryos to other couples having difficulty conceiving a family.
It’s important to understand that the donated embryos are biological siblings of the donors children, also that any children from donated embryos will be raised in a different family environment ‐ by parents who have no genetic connection with the children. Embryo donation is similar to adoption.
Why do couples donate embryos?
One common reason why couples donate their embryos is because they want to help other couples who have experienced the stress and distress of infertility.
If you have a surplus embryos in storage you can either:
- donate embryos to other couples
- thaw the embryos and discard them
- donate embryos to approved research projects.
What is the chance that a donated embryo will become a child?
The chance of a donated embryo becoming a child is difficult to estimate and depends on a number of factors:
- The age of the woman at the time the embryo was created
- Genetic factors in the couple who created the embryo
- The preparation of the uterus of the women who receives the embryo.
Overall in Australia 18% of all frozen embryos, which are thawed and transferred to the woman’s uterus, result in the birth of a live baby; but there are no specific statistics available for donated embryos.
Are there any health risks?
All pregnancies carry a small risk to the mother carrying the pregnancy, but there is no evidence that the risk is increased from embryo donation.
To help reduce health risks, the donating couple must have had negative blood testing after the creation of the embryos for infectious diseases such as hepatitis, syphilis, and acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).
There is a slight increase in birth defects in children conceived via IVF (4% of live births from IVF have a birth defect compared to 3% of spontaneously conceived babies). Donated embryos are not usually screened for genetic disorders.
What are the costs of using donated embryos?
There is legislation Australia prohibiting payment for embryos directly to the donating couple or to the IVF unit. Care Fertility may charge for the services provided in facilitating the donation, but not for the embryos themselves.
Your Care Fertility specialist will provide information about the costs incurred. These may be partly subsidised by Medicare and private health insurance.
What is the legal situation?
There is no Queensland legislation on the use of donated embryos. There are Federal guidelines, which state that donating and receiving couples should undertake counselling to ensure that the implications of their decisions are fully understood and that the rights of the children are respected in the future.
One of these rights (not currently legislated, but generally accepted) is that children have an interest in obtaining identifying information about their genetic origins. This is something that needs to be considered by all parties prior to proceeding with donated embryos. Generally a written consent is used to the donor of the embryos, which allows the responsibility for the costs and upbringing the child remains with the recipient couple.
If you are interested in enquiring about donated embryos, what do you do?
You should contact Care Fertility, and arrange for a referral from your general practitioner to one of the doctors. Care Fertility maintains a waiting list for donated embryos and only performs known donation. This means that the donating couple and recipient couple must exchange identifying information prior to the donation.