Embryo Donation ( ED)
Embryo Donation (ED) is the donation by a couple who have embryos following IVF to someone struggling with infertility.
ED has only been available in New Zealand since late 2005. The regulations are quite different from those of many other countries, following guidelines that have been set out by ACART (the Advisory Committee for Assisted Reproductive Technologies) under the HART (Human Assisted Reproductive Technologies) Act of 2004.
ED is a relatively new way of building families.
Research to date has been quite limited, and donors and recipients often talk about there being very little information to guide their decision-making and to help them as the journey unfolds. While it may involve unique challenges, ED can be a positive option, provided careful consideration has been given to all the issues involved and appropriate safety guards have been put in place.
The main requirements
The main requirements include that:
the donor family feels that their family is complete and have remaining embryos to donate
the recipients are medically infertile
the donation can occur to one family only so that there aren’t full genetic siblings in more than two families
the embryos have been created from the donors’ eggs and sperm
the donation cannot be anonymous. Donors must be prepared to have their identities recorded and disclosed to the children
the donors and recipients receive both individual counselling as well as joint counselling, discussing the implications of ED and expectations around information-sharing and contact
all applications have to be submitted to ECART (Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology)
ED has the potential to be an attractive option. For donors, the positives include:
Feeling like they are respecting and valuing their embryos. Much time, energy, physical and emotional resources have gone into the creation of embryos and many donors would like to see their embryos used, rather than discarded;
Some donors see their embryos as life, or a child already, and donation allows an opportunity for this life to be realised;
Donation allows donors to help others in a similar situation, or is a means for them to express thanks for the gift of having children that they have received
For recipients, the advantages of ED include:
ED is a technologically simple option and less expensive than some other options to build a family (such as international adoption);
ED may be an option for couples who have struggled to achieve embryos from their own eggs and sperm;
ED may be seen as “adoption with benefits”, as it offers the opportunity to experience pregnancy (allowing control over the prenatal environment and the opportunity to bond with the baby before birth), birth, and the parenting of a young child. The recipients, as birth parents, are also automatically recognised as the legal parents
However, ED can also be a challenging option, and many potential donors and recipients change their minds about proceeding with ED. Careful consideration needs to be given to the longer-term implications of donation, both for the adults involved as well as for the donor-conceived child, and any children that donors and recipients might already have. The children will in effect, be full brothers and sisters but growing up in different families.
New Zealand research on ED by Dr Sonja Goedeke
Between 2012 and 2014 I conducted a study on ED, exploring how donors and recipients have experienced ED in New Zealand. This study suggests that donors and recipients regard genetics as important, and believe that donor-conceived children need to know about their genetic background and roots.
They see this as important not only so that children have access to medical information they may require, but that they know what their roots are and can establish a healthy sense of identity.
Many donors and recipients talk about being aware of how closed adoption practices may have been difficult for adopted people, and that it seems to be better for adopted kids to know who their birth parents are.
Much research suggests that telling children about their origins and from a young age onwards, rather than keeping their conception secret, is best for their psychosocial wellbeing. It also appears to promote, rather than negatively affect, healthy family relationships. Donors and recipients tended to see ED as similar to adoption, almost like a “pre-birth adoption” or as one recipient put it, “growing your own adoption”.
By drawing parallels with adoption, donors and recipients were able to make sense of ED, seeing it as a somewhat familiar form of family building, and it helped them to think through the possibly similar implications of ED.
Donors and recipients spoke about how they saw the role of the donors in relation to the children and the recipient family. Most regarded the donors as some sort of extended family members. They saw ED as akin to creating an extending family network, particularly given the fact that the children in the two families were full brothers and sisters, and that many felt that they should know about, and possibly even get to know each other.
The donors were described as something like aunts, uncles, god parents, or distant relatives. This was a useful concept. It meant that they could regard the donors as part of the wider family, able to express interest in the child’s wellbeing and have a role to play (at the discretion of the parents). However, just like other extended family members, donors had no parental rights and responsibilities. In the study, donor and recipient families had different levels of contact with each other.
Some maintained occasional contact through email, Facebook, password-protected blogs and/or phone calls. Others had face-to-face contact with each other, including meeting up for special occasions or social get-togethers. In these cases, most donors and recipients had been able to build healthy relationships with each other with clear boundaries and expectations – recipients were clearly seen as “the parents”, and yet donors were acknowledged as having some role in the child’s life.
Most donors and recipients however spoke of their relationship as evolving over time, and as being something that was difficult to plan for – particularly since ED is a relatively new practice and donors and recipients had few models to guide them. This created some anxiety and uncertainty about the future, especially since the children born from ED are still young, and donors and recipients wondered about how ED would unfold in the longer term and how children might respond at a later stage.
Drawing on these findings, if you are thinking about ED, either as a donor or as a recipient, you may wish to consider: