by Angela Ferguson, President of Embryo Donation Network, the first Australian organisation dedicated to providing information and support to those considering donating or receiving embryos. embryodonation.org.au
We are an Australian organisation committed to raising awareness about embryo donation. We offer information about this valid choice for unused IVF embryos and provide the opportunity to connect with donors or recipients.
This website has links to help you find a clinic if you are considering donating or receiving embryos. We are also privileged to have personal stories from an embryo recipient and from someone born of embryo donation.
Excerpt from “Karen’s Journey” – a story on the website
“I can honestly say I have had no negative experiences from having my children by donated embryos, only positive. There have been anxieties along the way – such as how will I explain different issues to them and to other people – but so far I have managed to get there. I have always been open and I believe possibly because I am so accepting and truly joyful and loving of all my children, that maybe people can absorb this and take it all in more easily. I remember when my husband and I finally decided to use donated gametes, we did so knowing we were ready to have our children conceived this way even if no-one approved. Luckily they all did!”
The dilemma of what to do with unused frozen IVF embryos is confronting more and more people. For most people starting fertility treatment, having a baby is at the forefront of their minds and the thought of what they will do with any ‘leftover’ frozen embryos is not a big consideration. It may even seem a quite welcome possibility! However, too many couples find out that this is actually quite a quandary.
Unused frozen embryos are quite common in IVF treatment. This is because the focus of fertility treatment is to create as many embryos as possible, to maximise the chances of having a baby. If not all of these embryos are used straight away, the others are usually frozen for later use by the couple. Years down the track, if the couple cannot use all these embryos themselves, they then have to decide what to do with these embryos. In Australia, there are three alternatives: to discard the embryos; to give the embryos to the clinic for research (which also destroys the embryo); or to donate the embryos to another couple, a process called ‘embryo donation’.
In Australia today, there are approximately 120 000 frozen embryos in storage1. The majority of these will be discarded and given to research. For some people with frozen embryos, however, embryo donation stands out as a positive, life-affirming option. Embryo donation gives embryos a chance at life, and gives embryo recipients the precious gift of the chance to be parents. Embryo donors are helping those who may not be able to become pregnant any other way, and who have a long and difficult history of infertility, which the donors themselves can often identify with.
Despite these positive aspects of embryo donation, embryo donation is not yet common in Australia. It is estimated that for every couple that successfully receives donated embryos, 20 other potential recipients are still waiting 2. There are many factors that prevent people from donating embryos. Some clinics may not offer embryo donation, or if they do, may not provide much information and support to people considering embryo donation. In fact, there is a general lack of information and support available around embryo donation. Despite the fact that embryo donation has been carried out in Australia for about 20 years, most people don’t know that it is possible in Australia.
Another factor that prevents people from donating is a relational one – a sense of responsibility for their embryos. Recent research has suggested that if people have the opportunity to have a role in the process of finding recipients, which may include meeting the recipients, they are more likely to donate 3. In line with best practice in adoption, openness about embryo donation is now common, and, frequently, some form of communication exists between the donors and recipient family.
Information and support are empowering to those making difficult decisions about unused embryos. It is important that clinics become more supportive of a comprehensive range of options for unused embryos, and that all people with unused embryos have access to accurate information about the various alternatives. In turn this may mean that more people choose the life-affirming option of embryo donation.
1. Browne, R (2011). Giving birth to a costly quandary. Sydney Morning Herald, March 6, 2011.
2. Medew, J (2012). Childless lose out in quest for spare embryos. Sydney Morning Herald, August 11 2012.
3. Millbank, J, Stuhmcke, A, Karpin, I, & Chandler, E (2013). Enhancing reproductive opportunity: A study of decision-making concerning stored embryos. University of Technology, Sydney.