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. 

For more information about embryo donation and donation agreements, please reach out to our expert team of fertility attorneys and paralegals at International Fertility Law Group.





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.