Friday, July 29, 2011

A Hypothetical Catholic EA Agency

As mentioned in my brief overview on embryo adoption, there is a range of ways that one can “participate” in embryo adoption.  Not all methods award the proper dignity and respect to each embryo or even to each marital relationship.  As of today there are at least nine self-proclaimed “embryo adoption agencies” (here is a list of eight EA agencies; here’s one more agency).  And there are over 500 fertility clinics nationwide that have some sort of embryo donation program (click here for a partial list by state).  Just as regular domestic adoption agencies vary in their services provided, so too do all of these programs in their services provided.

Unfortunately, since embryo adoption is not recognized as a legal form of adoption under federal law, there are no laws in place to regulate embryo adoption practices.  I think it’s worthwhile, then, to define what an ideal Catholic embryo adoption agency would look like.  Though this discussion is hypothetical at this point, it should provide some measure with which to compare existing agencies.

Please note, the absolute best scenario would be for the genetic parents to complete the embryo transfers themselves with their own remaining embryos and care for them for the duration of embryos’ lives (be it moments or decades).  However, I do realize this scenario cannot always be achieved either due to mental, physical, or financial reasons.  The decision to place embryos for adoption should not be (and I doubt it ever is) a decision lightly made.

I would like to propose several criteria for a hypothetical Catholic embryo adoption agency.  First, adoptive parents should complete an adoption home study at least in accordance with their home state guidelines.  Home studies are required for domestic and international adoption; they should likewise be required for embryo adoption.  As part of the home study process, adoptive parents should receive tips on how to share with their child(ren) their unique origin.

Second, all fees associated with the embryo adoption AND frozen embryo transfer should be kept to a minimum and be as affordable as possible.  I’ve seen it argued that the placing parents (aka genetic parents) should “foot the bill”.  Honestly, I don’t think this is a reasonable request.  This is not expected of traditional forms of adoption, why should it be for embryo adoption?  It goes without saying that genetic parents should not be reimbursed in any way for expenses they undertook in the creation of the embryos or in storage of the embryos up until they are relinquished to the care of the adoptive parents.

Third, all adoption legalese should be patterned as closely as possible off of current domestic adoption legalese.  If one day our federal government wakes up and decides to recognize the embryo as a person and to recognize embryo adoption as a legal form of adoption, then there’d be fewer questions on the validity of the contract.  I’m sure they’d be grandfathered in if such a situation were to happen, but you get the idea…

Fourth, there must be strict mandates in place.  Absolutely no surrogates.  Absolutely no selective reduction.  Thaw only the embryos you are healthfully prepared to carry to term, regardless of the statistics.  (Typically anywhere from one to three embryos are frozen in a straw; you cannot thaw a partial straw.)  Do not refreeze thawed embryos.  No genetic testing of any sort.

Fifth, as with normal infant adoption, the placing parents need to accept responsibility for the life/lives created.  They should participate in the matching process as much as reasonably possible.  I favor the idea of a mutual matching process (both placing/adoptive parties few each other’s profiles and say yea/nay), but recognize there may be some instances in which the placing parents have relinquished their rights to the agency.

Sixth, to truly honor and respect each embryo, the agency must keep track of every embryo that passes through its system.  Each adoptive couple should report back with thawing/transfer details along with pregnancy information should one occur.  Normal adoptive post-birth visits should be held by social workers.  Post birth records should be completed by the adoptive parents and filed by the agency. 

Embryo adoption is undoubtedly a unique form of adoption.  I would strongly suggest that all placing parents provide at least two generations of medical history to the adoptive parents to accommodate the special nature of embryo adoption.  However, I believe the adoption could follow normal open or closed communication arrangements as negotiated by the two families with the agency.

Based on my research up through 2008, Nightlight’s Snowflake program was the closest match to this hypothetical list, though there is no exact match in existence.  (Many of the nine agencies listed were just coming into existence when we did the bulk of our research and so were not reviewed.  I’m in the process of gathering more information now…)   I have three issues with Nightlight:  cost, they’ll work with surrogates on a case by case basis, and they don’t have any regulations regarding refreezing.  The majority of EA agencies in existence seem to be more affordable than Nightlight but also seem to offer less to both placing/adopting families.  Some agencies, like Miracles Waiting or Embryos Alive, seem to be just a forum for matches to take place.  Without more oversight, I fear that each embryo may not receive its due dignity in such an arrangement as Miracles Waiting or Embryos Alive. 

However, my thoughts continually are evolving on the formation of a Catholic embryo adoption agency.  What do you think?  Is there anything I have omitted?  Or should edit? 


  1. As a Catholic infertility patient that has exhausted all fertility options besides IVF, I am very interested in this! I would love to give my 4 1/2 year old little girl (a fertility baby) a brother or sister and have been trying for longer than I remember! Very interesting topic!

  2. Ginny, feel free to email me (or you can facebook me too). I love to talk about EA and would be happy to answer any/all questions you may have!