Archive for December, 2011

How Does Embryo Donation International Rank Embryo Recipients?

Unfortunately, there are far more potential embryo recipients than donated embryos. While in this country alone, hundred of thousands of embryos are stored in liquid nitrogen, (Hoffman DI, et. al, 2003), less than ten percent and frequently less than five percent are donated to patients in need (Klock SC, et al., 2003). As a result, we often have a waiting list of recipients asking for donated embryos.

First, EDI doesn’t discriminate with respect to race, religion, ancestry, sexual preference or marital status. We also try to be fair to existing EDI patients and to those who have yet to become established patients. We basically are looking for potential embryo recipients who have few other reproductive options available. If one views donated embryos as an essentially rationed commodity, we want to make certain that patients in greatest need are ranked the highest. We try to do this in an ethical and fair fashion but ranking them can be a challenge.

While not absolute, below is a general ranking from high priority to lower priority in our general waiting lists:

  1. The intended parents have no delivered children and limited financial means with few options available.
  2. Their only child died and no other siblings exist.
  3. One of the partners raised a child with a different partner.
  4. Both of the partners raised children with different partners.
  5. Both partners raised one adopted child together.
  6. Both partners raised one (genetic) child together.
  7. Both partners raised children with other partners and one (genetic) child together.
  8. Both partners raised multiple (genetic) children together.

We define a “genetic child” as a child whose genes came from the parents themselves without the use of donated material and also not an adopted child.

Here are some of the questions we also commonly ask in trying to decide where the patients should rank on our waiting lists:

  1. How long have they been on the waiting list?
  2. Are they established patients with EDI or have never been seen before?
  3. Are there other less expensive and viable options such as donor sperm?
  4. What have the patients gone through during their infertility journey?
  5. Is adoption of a live child a possibility?
  6. Are there financial constraints that makes embryo donation far more feasible over other more expensive options?

Also, we actually have multiple lists broken down by the following major categories:

  • Type of embryo donation: Anonymous, Approved and Open Embryo Donation
  • Marital status/sexual orientation: Single woman, single man (very rare), heterosexual couple (married/unmarried), lesbian couple and gay couple (married/unmarried).

As you can see, the process of ranking can get a bit complicated. Our highest priority is healthy embryo recipients who have never had children of their own and have very few fertility options with limited financial means. For example, this group may include cancer survivors who have been left infertile due to the disease or treatment. In many states, cancer survivors find adoption of a child extraordinarily difficult, so embryo donation may be their only option for building a family. We also tend to rank patients higher who have undergone extensive unsuccessful IVF treatments and egg donation is their only remaining option, but due to financial constraints, are unable to afford the procedure.

While we do not exclude patients who have raised children, some requests come from parents with numerous children in their current family. We are actually not looking for potential embryo recipients who are trying to “save” donated embryos. We wish we had enough embryos for everyone, but until we have more embryos than applicants, we will continue to prioritize patients who have never raised children higher than those who have previously experienced the joys of parenthood. We will not exclude such patients, they will be ranked far lower than others on the priority scale.

While some patients who approach EDI have no children, they may have several other fertility options. For example, a young couple that is infertile due to severe male factor infertility, may best be served with sperm donation. Donor sperm generally is less expensive and faster than embryo donation and they can have more than one child using the same donor. We would prefer to save the donated embryos for patients with few available options.

We hope that our readers will understand our basic goals. For any rationed commodity, we want to save it for those in greatest need. If one pictures the embryos as rare, precious and hard to come by, one can imagine why a fair ranking system must be developed.

Ranking systems are never perfect and often seem unfair to those who receive lower rankings. It is difficult to explain a lower ranking to a patient who is desperately seeking to build or expand their family, however, once separated from the emotional aspect, it is usually agreed that a ranking system is needed to fairly as many patients that we can who are seeking donated embryos.

In summary, we feel that a ranking system is necessary to achieve our goal of matching donated embryos to patients in need in an ethical and fair fashion. In a perfect world, infertility wouldn’t even exist and there would be enough donated embryos to meet the demands of those asking for donated embryos. In today’s realistic world, however, the precious gift of donated embryos is simply not given often enough to meet the demands of those seeking donated embryos. Perhaps someday ,though education and research, the number of patients offering their embryos for donation will increase to such a level that we may be able to eliminate or at least trim back segments of our ranking system. Until that day comes, we will have to do our best to assist in matching patients in need to donated embryos in the most ethical and fair fashion we can.

Shelley Osking, L.P.N.
Embryo Donation Coordinator

Corey Burke, B.S., C.L.S.
Laboratory Supervisor

Craig R. Sweet, M.D.
Reproductive Endocrinologist
Founder, Medical and Practice Director

Hoffman DI, et al. Cryopreserved embryos in the United States and their availability for research. Fertil Steril 2003;79:1063-9.

Klock SC, et al. The disposition of unused frozen embryos [letter]. N Engl J Med 2001;345(1):69-70.

Georgia Law: The First Salvo Towards Embryo Personhood

A Guest Post by: Harold Eskin, Esq.

New laws are beginning to appear on the books of many states that support “embryo adoption.” “Embryo Adoption” is placed in quotation marks because that phrase alone has unique connotations that I discuss briefly below. The term embryo “donation” is also a commonly used expression describing giving one patient’s/couple’s cryopreserved (frozen) embryo(s) to another patient/couple trying to expand their family, but who otherwise have been unsuccessful through natural and/or advanced reproductive techniques.

Georgia was the first state to pass an embryo adoption bill (2009) that provided an opportunity for intended parents to go through an adoption procedure to obtain the right to gestate a thawed frozen embryo. Other states, such as Florida, have embryo donation statutes on its books, which allow a couple to receive a donation from another (open or anonymous) of a frozen embryo. While the end results may appear to be the same, the road getting there and implications of using the different phrases are vastly different.

The Georgia law, which was championed by Right to Life groups, treated a frozen embryo in much the same way as it would a child already born. The new law and procedures mimic that of other adoption provisions and gives the frozen embryo many of the same rights and considerations of a born child, including using a “best interest of the child” standard in the adoption analysis. This philosophy is consistent with the concept that a child’s rights (as compared to the mother’s) begins at conception rather than birth and has implications in the abortion-right to choose/right to life arguments ongoing disagreements and potential laws expressing same.

Florida and many other states have historically treated frozen embryos as the property of the parents, who have the right to donate or dispose of the frozen embryos as they saw fit. The recipients received the frozen embryos as property under the respective laws of their state and could use or dispose of the frozen embryos as they saw fit. This process allowed for freer access to unused frozen embryos and discouraged the abandonment/discarding of them.

The agenda of the Georgia law was not necessarily meant to “protect” the frozen embryos but was designed to advance a political agenda of creating additional barriers to a women’s right to choose (i.e. restrict abortion) and to further control the reproductive rights of patients by discouraging the use of advanced reproductive techniques, such as in vitro fertilization as well as the cryopreservation and storage of excess embryos.

Up to now, there have been few attempts to export the Georgia concept in other states. This is perhaps due to the country’s economic challenges, but this possible trend needs to be closely monitored. The implications of providing “personhood” to embryos are far and wide and the Georgia statute is one of the first successful salvos to be launched with others most certainly to follow. Mississippi is currently targeted for a constitutional amendment to give embryos personhood and many other states are next in line for challenges that may significantly impair the health and reproductive care of women.

Harold Eskin, Esq.
1420 SW 47th Street
Cape Coral, FL 33904

Georgia Statute:

Florida Statute: