Baby Born from 27-Year-Old Donated Embryo Offers Another Path to Parenthood

Just in time for a hopeful New Year, the airwaves are full of the story of the beautiful baby girl born in October from an embryo created and frozen a record-setting 27 years ago.

But, while embryo donation offers intended parents another option for disposition of unused embryos as well as a lower-cost cost path to parenthood for some infertile individuals, the happy ending made possible through this miracle of assisted reproductive technology does not present the whole picture: The agency that matched the frozen embryo with her Tennessee parents discriminates against unmarried and LGBTQ individuals. And the issue of embryo “adoption” itself has become another weapon in the religious right-wing attack on reproductive rights, including a woman’s right to choose.

Assisted Reproduction Technology Miracle


The baby, born to married couple Tina and Ben Gibson of Tennessee, “is believed to have set a new record for the longest-frozen embryo to have resulted in a birth, breaking a record set by her older sister, Emma,” according to a BBC report.

We wrote about big sister Emma when she was born three years ago:

The baby girl in this story was born November 25, 2017, to a young East Tennessee couple. The couple, who had wanted a baby but had been unable to conceive, were matched with a donated embryo provided by the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), a non-profit organization that is the largest U.S. provider of embryo donation and embryo adoption services. The couple went through more than 500 donor profiles before selecting one that, unbeknownst to them, had been frozen since October 14, 1992—just one-and-a-half years after mom Tina Gibson was born. Baby Emma became the longest known frozen human embryo to result in a successful birth.

In our January 2018 article about the baby born from a then-record-setting 24-year-old embryo, we celebrated, uncritically, both the promise of a more affordable solution for infertile couples for whom the high cost of IVF is prohibitive and a potential partial solution to the growing problem of unused, abandoned embryos in fertility clinics and cryopreservation facilities all over the U.S.

Religious Roots of Embryo Donor Programs


But, as The New York Times reported last year, many of the organizations that have sprung up in recent years to facilitate the donation of unused embryos are rooted in religious ideology that would deny the rights of single, unmarried or LGBTQ people to become parents and that use their belief in the “personhood” of unborn embryos as a basis to oppose abortion and other reproductive rights.

The agency that twice arranged for the Gibsons’ successful embryo donation, is one such example. The Knoxville, Tennessee-based National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), said to be largest embryo donation clinic in the United States, restricts the potential parents it serves to couples, who “must be a genetic male and a genetic female married for a minimum of 3 years,” according to guidelines published on its website.

The President and Medical Director of NEDC is Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, who also is founder and Co-director of the Southeastern Center for Fertility and Reproductive Medicine.

According to an article on the clinic’s website, which identifies NEDC as its “non-profit partner,” NEDC was founded in 2003 “as a direct result of a vision cast by Christian Medical & Dental Associations CEO Dr. David Stevens, who saw the need for a high-quality, scientifically and ethically sound way to honor the dignity of the human embryo.” The article continues:

“Since then, the faith-based organization has gained distinction as a leading comprehensive non-profit embryo adoption program whose purpose is to protect the lives and dignity of frozen embryos that would not be used by their genetic parents and to help other couples build the families they have longed for via donated embryos.”

Faith-Based Embryo Donation Programs Reap Federal Dollars

NEDC is one of several agencies that have received funding from a U.S. Department of Health and Human Services grant program, the Embryo Awareness Adoption Program, established in 2002 under the George W. Bush administration.

Since its inception 18 years ago, the program, which provides about $1 million in funding annually, has made grants to only two non-faith-based agencies, Boston IVF in 2011 and Resolve: The National Infertility Association from 2007 to 2009, according to The New York Times report.

All other agencies that have received funding under the taxpayer-funded program since 2002 have been either Christian or anti-abortion organizations, even though secular embryo-donation programs do exist. Dr. Craig Sweet, who runs the non-faith-based Embryo Donation International, told the Times he had applied for the federal grants several times and had never received one.

Embryo Donors May Shun Non-Christian or LGBTQ Parents

Often intended parents who donate unused embryos do so because of their religious beliefs and want to ensure their embryos go to parents who mirror their values. Agencies like NEDC and Snowflakes Embryo Adoption in Loveland, Colorado, whose parent agency received a federal grant in 2017, offer that assurance.

Kimberly Tyson, marketing and program director at Snowflakes Embryo Adoption, told the Times the donors she works with “skewed heavily Christian.” Under the agency’s “adoption” model, donors are able to direct who receives their embryos. “So when Ms. Tyson does get a client who identifies as atheist or L.G.B.T., she usually suggests other embryo transfer programs that aren’t religiously affiliated,” the Times reports.

Embryo “Adoption” as Argument for Personhood Laws

The prevalence of embryo donation agencies that discriminate against non-Christian, single or LGBTQ intended parents is a potentially troubling aspect of the embryo-donor movement.

Equally troubling is the way many of the donor agencies frame the embryo donation process not as a solution for individuals suffering from infertility or for LGBTQ or single people who want to be parents, but as an adoption of an abandoned child.

The question of when human life begins is at the heart of the abortion controversy in the United States. Over time, anti-choice activists have shifted their energies from picketing clinics and challenging abortion laws directly to an effort to use courts and conservative state legislatures to establish the legal personhood of unborn embryos.

Historically in family law cases such as divorce, any existing unused embryos are treated by the courts as community property of the couple. Ideally, an agreement was signed by all parties when the embryos were created that governs how the embryos will be disposed in the event of death, divorce or separation.

In 2016, we wrote about the case of actress Sophia Vergara, whose ex-fiancé sued in a Louisiana court in an attempt to gain custody of the couple’s unused, frozen embryos with the intention of using a surrogate to give birth. In 2018, we covered a new Arizona law that would award custody of any embryos in a divorce case to the party that promises to allow the embryos to be born—regardless of the wishes of the other parent.

The success of these efforts to treat embryos as legal persons would devastate the practice of assisted reproduction and for reproductive rights in general.

According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), of 367 U.S. member clinics reporting, 74,590 babies were born as a result of 279,288 IVF cycles in 2018, the most recent annual data available—roughly a 26 percent success rate.

That means that 74 percent of the embryos used in IVF procedures in the U.S. were not used or did not result in a live birth. Likewise, in natural human conception, we know that a large number of embryos don’t attach or are not viable, often lost before a woman is even aware of the pregnancy.

Often, when intended parents undergo IVF, they end up with multiple viable embryos. In the early days of IVF technology, best practice was to implant multiple embryos, which maximized the chances of conception but often resulted in multiple births or in the need for selective reduction.

However, as the technology advanced and outcomes improved, best practice evolved to implantation of a single embryo per cycle—improving conditions for babies and birth mothers alike.

Even with these technological advances, many more embryos typically are produced during the IVF process than are used. Intended parents often arrange for their frozen embryos to be stored in the event they want to add to their family in the future. Once their families are complete, intended parents must make the decision of what to do with their unused embryos—a decision that can be emotionally difficult for some or even create conflict between parents.

One unintended consequence, as we wrote about earlier, is the growing numbers of embryos abandoned and unclaimed by their owners, creating an unsustainable dilemma for IVF clinics and cryopreservation facilities across the United States. As we described, one reason intended parents sometimes “abandon” their stored embryos, leaving storage fees unpaid, is their reluctance to make what can be the emotionally tough decision to discard them. More embryo donation programs would offer individuals more options, both for the intended parents who created the embryos and for infertile individuals for whom the high cost of IVF can be prohibitive.

Embryo Donation Offers Lower-Cost Family-Building Option

As was the case with this Tennessee family, embryo donation programs can be a solution for infertile, single or LGBTQ intended parents who otherwise might not be able to afford the cost of IVF or even adoption. As The New York Times reported:

Transferring donated embryos is less expensive than almost any alternative to natural pregnancy. Adoption can cost tens of thousands of dollars. A single round of I.V.F. — which many insurance carriers do not cover — can run between $12,000 and $17,000. Embryo donation costs an average of $8,000.

Embryo donation is a family-building tool and an opportunity for intended parents that we should celebrate. But, particularly during these divided times, with a conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court all too willing to consider challenges to reproductive rights it’s important to celebrate it for the right reasons. We should not allow the opportunity for embryo donation to become another weapon in the culture wars or in the ongoing attempt to strip women of the right to control their own bodies.  

Here at IFLG, we do celebrate the news of a baby born using an embryo created and frozen 27 years ago, just as we celebrate all the babies born to our clients who worked, planned, sacrificed and dreamed, sometimes for years, in order to become parents through assisted reproductive technology. We are thrilled at the advances in technology and the resulting improved opportunities for intended parents to create families of their own.



Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

Los Angeles

5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 645

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Phone:  +1 323 331 9343

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

New York

501 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1900

New York, NY 10017

Phone:  +1 844 400 2016

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.