27 Apr 2022 With Improved IVF, Embryo Donation Offers Lower-Cost Option for Parenthood
Thanks to improvements in vitro fertilization (IVF) techniques, intended parents today often end up with more viable embryos than they are able to use. Embryo donation offers parents a solution for “excess” embryos and a lower-cost option for individuals struggling with infertility.
In our fast-paced world, technological advancements are taking place at an unprecedented rate, creating new opportunities and decisions to be made in a multitude of scientific scenarios. Assisted reproduction technology (ART) is no exception, with recent advancements leading not only to higher success rates for in vitro fertilization (IVF), but also to a higher number of viable embryos being created overall. “With the astonishing advancements in reproduction science, IVF now produces far more embryos than it did in the past,” says Dr. Anna Glezer, a psychiatrist at the University of California on NPR.org. While these higher success rates in pregnancy allow for fewer embryos transfers into the womb—safer for both babies and mothers and surrogates—they have also led to a growing number of frozen embryos left in limbo at medical facilities, as we reported in 2017.
According to Parents, there are over one million frozen embryos in the United States today, and although many will be used to create siblings and complete families, inevitably there is a decision to be made about what to do with the remaining unused embryos. While parents may choose to keep their embryos frozen, discard them entirely, or donate them to science, a small number of parents are choosing to donate their remaining healthy embryos to couples and singles who are unable to conceive naturally.
Improved IVF Produces More Viable Embryos
These healthy embryos are typically stored in medical facilities using a process called “cryopreservation,” in which a substance called “cryoprotectant” replaces the water in the cell. Embryos are then incubated with increasing levels of cryoprotectant and finally frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen at a temperature of -321 degrees Fahrenheit, according to Medical News Today. At this temperature, no biological processes or aging can occur, meaning there is no set limit on how long frozen embryos can stay frozen and still be viable. Keeping embryos frozen at these medical facilities can cost up to $800 or more a year. Although there is no time limit, with some parents paying to keep their embryos frozen for decades, the yearly bill is another reason some parents seek out other options.
Of course, the necessity of making such a decision is relatively new in the historical timeline of assisted reproduction. Simply put, improved modern technology has resulted in a surplus of embryos; the residual effect is a new pathway to parenthood via embryo donation for couples and singles struggling with infertility.
Embryo Donation Offers Cost-Effective Option for Parenthood
Many couples and singles seeking embryo donation have already tried other fertility treatments unsuccessfully. They likely already have spent countless hours in fertility clinics undergoing procedures in repeated efforts to become pregnant, all while exhausting their financial resources.
For some would-be parents, embryo donation may be the last hope for parenthood. Mary Anne Barden, 43, chose the path of embryo donation after spending thousands of dollars over the course of four years for unsuccessful treatments. “I spent thousands on fertility treatments, which have taken emotional and physical tolls,” she tells Insider. Barden and her partner had never thought of embryo donation until her doctor mentioned it, but this new option has given them hope. Barden goes on to say, “While the baby won’t be genetically related to us, I still get to carry them in my belly.” Embryo donation opens new possibilities for thousands of intended parents who thought they had reached the end of the fertility rope, and it offers a chance for an intended mother to carry a child in her womb.
An added benefit to embryo donation is its cost effectiveness. As I reported in a previous post, a single round of IVF can run between $12,000 and $17,000, while embryo donation, including implantation, costs an average of $8,000. Too often, intended parents are unable to sustain the cost of multiple rounds of IVF. As National Embryo Donation Center President Jeffrey Keenan told NBC News, embryo donation is “an exceptionally successful and very cost-effective option, and it’s sometimes really the only option for couples where the mother can actually experience a pregnancy and the birth of a child.”
Open, Closed Embryo Donations Determine Future Contact
Once parents make the decision to donate their embryos, they must decide if they want an “open” or “closed” donation. In an open donation, both the donors and the recipients receive information about each other. The donating parents choose among applicants who will receive their embryo or embryos, and the receiving couple knows who the donors are. The parties choose the terms of their donation together and decide how much contact they would like to have with one another as well as between their children. It is important to note that any child born from an embryo donation will be a full genetic sibling to any children from the embryo donors. Having an open donation gives the children an opportunity for open contact in the future and for them to know that they have genetic ties to another person.
Another option is a closed donation, in which donors choose to remain anonymous, and there is no contact between the parties. However, even with a closed donation, the recipients still receive information about the donors, and donors can specify the recipient of their embryo if they wish. For example, donors might specify that they would like a family of the same race or religion and living more than 1,000 miles away to receive their unused embryo, according to The New York Times. For the recipients, basic information about the donors in most cases includes their ages, heights, eye and skin color, religion and medical history. They may also be told if other embryos from the donor(s) have resulted in a live birth and how many remaining embryos the donors have. This information is useful if the recipients are interested in having more than one child from the same donation.
In both open and closed donations, donors report feeling good about helping those struggling to become parents and having a sense of closure knowing their embryos are no longer in limbo in a medical facility. For Katherine, a mother of twins who had three frozen embryos left after she felt her own family was complete, donating her last three embryos was the right decision. Although it was a hard decision, she ultimately came to realize that “when a couple reaches the point of considering using a donated embryo, it’s safe to assume that they have exhausted every other option and every single dollar available to them to have their own biological children,” she told The New York Times. She goes on to say, “I truly love the idea that one of our donated embryos may be able to end their heartache and give them the family they’ve wanted for so long. I feel secure in knowing that whoever gets these embryos is going to put as much effort into being fantastic parents as they did into getting pregnant.”
Assisted Reproductive Technology Makes Parenthood More Accessible
For so many, the path to parenthood is not an easy one. There are ups and downs during every part of the fertility treatment process, and while thousands of patients are successful with IVF, thousands more are not. With the increasing number of embryos cryopreserved in medical facilities, embryo donation has become a viable fertility treatment for many intended families. Embryo donation also offers a positive solution for both recipients and donors: Recipients, often after exhausting other options, are given another chance to create a family. Donors feel good about giving someone that chance and find closure in their own fertility journeys. For both parties, it is important to have a contract in place to document their agreement in terms of confidentiality and how much contact they will have with each other and offspring.
One of the many reasons I love what I do is that I not only get to help future parents on their parenthood journeys, but I also get to witness the amazing progress that modern technology is making in the field of reproductive health. With each new advancement, there are more opportunities for prospective parents and new challenges for the attorneys assisting them.