Embryo Donation vs. Adoption - What's the difference?

A decade ago, only one adoption agency in the country offered Embryo Adoption as an adoption alternative. Now there are eight providers and many more agencies are in the process of establishing new programs.

This family-building option offers couples not only the hope of having a child but the chance to experience the joys (and travails) of pregnancy.

The only question is: What should we call it?

Some people refer to this unique option as Embryo Donation. Others refer to it as Embryo Adoption. So what’s the difference?

The words “donation” and “adoption” can be used interchangeably to refer to the same process. However, there are some key differences in the programs that typically refer to the process solely embryo donation or embryo adoption.

There are about 200 fertility clinics in the U.S. that have what they refer to as ‘embryo donation’ programs.  These programs may or may not be open to people who are not current patients of the clinic. These programs tend to treat the process as a medical procedure, with very little involvement from the donor couple (if any) as well as less social guidelines for both the donor or recipient families.

Usually, when a couple donates their embryos through an anonymous clinic donation program, the clinic staff will decide who the embryos will be donated  to.  The donor couple may or may not have a say in the decision and the donated embryos may be distributed among multiple recipients.

‘Embryo adoption’ programs treat the process as just that – an adoption. This means the same protections and guidelines set in place for traditional adoption – home studies, legal contracts, post-adoption support and education – are applied to the embryo recipient/adopter.

This process also protects the donor. It provides information about the family receiving their embryos and allows both couples to have input regarding how much communication there will be between the families following the exchange of the embryos.

One embryo donation program is operated by an organization known as the NEDC (National Embryo Donation Center).  This clinic also requires a home study as a part of their program.

A person pursuing embryo donation or adoption should spend time researching the different programs across the country to see what is right for them. Some may determine that having more of a say in the process is important them, others may prefer an anonymous process.  The good news is that both are available.

The Embryo Adoption Awareness Center has helpful lists of Embryo Adoption agencies and fertility clinics with Embryo Donation programs on its website.

Also, you can read more about the difference between “donation” and “adoption” on the Embryo Adoption Awareness Center FAQ’s page.

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