Should We Adopt Embryos?

We are all familiar with the process of adopting children, but what about the idea of adopting embryos? There are a number of embryo adoption agencies in the US and the first, Snowflakes, began its embryo adoption programme twenty years ago. New Zealand also operates a form of embryo adoption. Having just completed a study looking at the experiences of people using Snowflakes, I am interested in asking whether we should follow this lead and have embryo adoption in the UK.

When people have in vitro fertilisation (IVF) for fertility problems, eggs and sperm are fertilised in a petri dish to create embryos and these can be used in their treatment or frozen and stored to use later. Often couples end their fertility treatment with unused embryos in storage, and one option is to donate them to others to start a family. Currently, when a couple in the UK donate their embryo, they usually have no say in who receives it, and there is no contact between the donors and potential recipients.

Embryo adoption is different. In embryo adoption programmes donors can choose who receives their embryo. Donors are given information about potential recipients by the agency, which can include details about their religious beliefs, education, interests and family life. Also, if the donors and recipients are agreeable, they can arrange contact with each other after the child is born.
We have done two studies on the experiences of people using Snowflakes embryo adoption agency in the US. We found that the donors felt a sense of responsibility towards their embryos and wanted to make sure they went to a good home. Both donors and recipients thought that being open with their children about their origins was important. There was also a desire to share information about the children and keep in contact with each other, and some donors and recipient couples had met face-to-face. On the whole, the people in our study were happy with the amount and type of contact they had. In cases where the contact did not involve the children, it…

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