Why Embryo Donation shouldn’t be called Adoption
by Sue Taylor **
My opinion is that the term “embryo adoption” is primarily being used by organizations simply as a marketing gimmick primarily for financial gain. By making it “just like adoption” it is a way to appeal to broad groups of people wanting a child (who might not be considering assisted reproductive technologies for their own myriad reasons) and it allows the organizations (often religious) to promote this form of fertility treatment as having the added benefit of also being a good deed with a “save the frozen embryos from a freezer” appeal. Sometimes, they even add the “orphan” label, which I find terribly insulting.
In marketing embryo donation as a form of adoption, I think it minimizes or trivializes the feelings and experience of birth parents and “real” adoptees from a traditional, legal adoption (the ones who were living, breathing persons when they were legally adopted and their birth parents relinquished their rights). Let me explain.
What birth parents go through in making the difficult decision to place a child for adoption is not to be taken lightly. Unlike a person choosing to donate embryos (typically under no time pressure or duress of an impending birth), birth parents are making a very difficult decision under great pressure and stress about parenting or adoption – often agonizing at great lengths while the child is growing in their body or they have just given birth. I doubt that a birth mother would feel like she is “just like” the woman who chose to donate her embryos. I am not diminishing the angst that goes into making a choice to donate embryos – but it is generally done with deliberate intention and great joy in the opportunity to help someone else once your own family building pursuits are complete. And that is a far different emotional situation than making an adoption plan for a child born or about to be born. In my experience, families choosing to donate embryos typically don’t experience the same type of angst and ongoing grief about their choice as many birth parents often do. They are making a willing choice to donate. They rejoice that they were able to share their own joy of parenting by donating embryos to help fulfill the dreams of another family. In contrast, despite the fact that birth parents may have confidence that the decision they made was the best thing for the child, it is typically a huge personal loss. And the circumstances that bring them to that loss-or even their confidence in their decision-doesn’t diminish the fact that it typically has an emotionally charged lifelong impact.
And, what about the adoptees? As an adoptee myself, I think the term embryo adoption is dismissive of adoptees feelings and experiences. Regardless of the circumstances of your adoption, there is a loss that is far different than simply a loss of genetics. Being separated at birth from the woman who created me, carried me in her body for 9 months, gave birth to me, and agonized over placing me for adoption does not in any way make me feel similar kinship to a child who was born through embryo donation. A child of embryo donation is carried by and born into to the family who will parent them (and with the benefit of epigenetics, the expression of genes influenced by the mother carrying the child). Add that the child of embryo donation was very much wanted and longed for throughout the pregnancy and from long before the embryo was even received or transferred, and THAT is a very, very different scenario with little in common to adoption.
In my mind – the only similarity between embryo donation and adoption is that children are being parented by adults who don’t share their DNA. Period – that is it! So, calling embryo donation a form of “adoption” is as if you are trivializing adoption down to it being only an issue of not sharing DNA with the parents raising you. I can assure you that adoption is far more complex than that.
I want to say specifically that I don’t take so much issue with families who elect to talk to their children about embryo donation using the language of adoption – how they want to present their family to the world is their business. I do hope that they are considering the language with great care and consideration though for the children’s sake. I also have no judgment for anyone who chooses to go through an embryo adoption agency and the quasi-adoption process required by them as a way to get their embryos or as a way to donate their embryos. I think however your embryos or children come to you is your business as long as it is done ethically. And however you decide to share the gift of embryos is also your business if you are donating. My frustration is with industry professionals and these non-medical organizations who are exploiting the term adoption to create a new industry primarily for financial gain.
My opinion is that many are using the term “adoption” as a way for those agencies to make money off of families desperately wanting to be parents. They charge agency fees, home study fees, fingerprinting fees, background checks, training/education fees, etc. And often that money is paid all before they even qualify you to match you with embryos (that themselves statistically give them about a 25 – 40% chance of a live birth). Realistically, adding an “adoption” component to embryo donation can easily double or triple the cost of embryo donation to the recipients.
“Requiring infertile patients who need donor gametes or patients who need donor embryos to suffer the imposition of unnecessary administrative and legal trappings of adoption and the costs that accompany them is not ethically justifiable. The donation of embryos for reproductive purposes is fundamentally a medical procedure intended to result in pregnancy and should be treated as such.”
For these reasons, I prefer that we use language for this new form of family building (involving donation of embryos) that doesn’t imply that this is “just like an adoption”.