Adoption or Donation? Why the Word “Adoption” Matters

Is it adoption or are you receiving a donation? While it may seem like a simple matter of terminology, there is a huge benefit to calling the process of transferring embryos from one family to another an adoption. Traditional adoptions are the process of placing a child who is in need of a home with a family who is not genetically related to them. That’s exactly what’s happening with an embryo adoption, too – these embryos are children who are waiting for a home of their own. They were created by their genetic families, and now they need an adoptive family to give them the chance at the life for which they were created. The hoped for end result of using donated embryo to achieve a pregnancy is a human child.

Some organizations wish to call it a donation as they believe that donating an embryo is no different than donating sperm or an unfertilized egg – that it’s simply genetic material that can be donated in order to create a life. Within the legal world, the process of transferring embryos from one family to another isn’t considered a legal adoption; it’s actually governed by property law.

Beyond the political, religious and moral implications of calling it an embryo adoption versus an embryo donation, there are practical reasons adoption is a better term to use. Viewing an embryo transfer through the adoption lens and applying adoption practices to the transfer can have a positive impact on the resulting children later in life. Some organizations use an open adoption model for embryo adoption, which allows the families to stay in contact as much or as little as they wish and also gives the children access to medical and family history information in the future. Donations may be done anonymously, which can lead to problems for both families as well as the resulting children later in life.

No matter what you call it though, the end result is that this is a safe, affordable family-building alternative for many post-infertility couples. If you’d like to learn more about open embryo adoption, visit

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