I have an embryo adoption friend who recently was interviewed by People magazine about her personal adoption story. This past week, her story aired as a three part online special. Part one was Liz's story, part two was the genetic mother's story, and part three was an interview with Liz's reproductive endocrinologist.
All in all, they were amazing interviews that, hopefully, brought some positive attention to embryo adoption in the United States.
One point could bear elaboration: there are three different routes one can chose from when seeking embryo adoption: agency adoption, a private match, or a clinic's donation program. Liz and her husband exemplify scenario two, the private match, while my family has grown through an agency adoption. I have no interest in saying one is better than another because that point varies by personal situation. I merely want to lay out some of the similarities and differences between the three paths.
To date, there are three main facilities that offer agency-type embryo adoption services: Nightlight's Snowflake Program, the Embryo Adoption Services of Cedar Park, and the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC). I've examined these programs at length before, so, for the sake of brevity, I'm just going to look at some common points.
All three require a home study from adoptive families.
The first two facilities write up contracts that carefully outline the relinquishment of the genetic parents' rights. (As NEDC retains rights to the embryos, not the genetic parents, its contracts are different in nature than the former two establishments.)
All three provide matching services.
All three offer open, semi-open, or closed adoptions.
All three offer the adoptive family the complete batch of embryos.
All three offer biographical information on the genetic family. Snowflakes and Cedar Park offer extensive information on the placing family. NEDC offers varying amounts of information given the different levels of openness (an closed match often means a more limited amount of information available on the donors).
Snowflakes and Cedar Park offer counseling services to both the donating and adopting parties, if desired.
Both Snowflakes and Cedar Park oversee the physical transportation of the embryos from wherever they are housed to the adoptive family's transferring clinic. (NEDC is a clinic and already houses the embryos.)
This route tends to be the most expensive due to the involved role the agency plays in the whole process.
Additional costs consist of the home study (though Cedar Park offers one in house for an additional cost), medication, and the embryo transfer (except for NEDC which performs the transfer on site).
There are two ways to pursue a private match: through "word of mouth" or through a matching forum. With the advent of social media and chat groups, finding embryos through "word of mouth" is not an impossible scenario. However, many adoptive families are turning to one of the two "matching forums" in existence.
Miracles Waiting is essentially a classified advertisement service for donating/adopting couples to find each other. One pays a flat fee to join ($150) and then one can obtain full access to the listings. Embryos may not be bought or sold, as that is illegal, but otherwise, there are no regulations or requirements of donors or recipients.
NRFA is a relatively new forum for finding a match. The price for membership varies, based on the number of months purchased. This is less like a classified advertisement service and more like a personal look at placing/waiting families' life books.
Home studies are usually not required, though some placing parents may show preference to those adoptive families who have a current home study.
Usually a private match results in some sort of openness between the placing and adopting families.
While a private match appears much less expensive than an agency match, there are a few other costs to include: transporting the embryos to your transferring clinic, legal fees, and all the fees associated with the embryo transfer itself.
CLINIC DONATION PROGRAM
Some clinics have their own in-house embryo donation programs. The clinic may or may not have full rights to these embryos. If the clinic has full rights, then the paperwork is just between the clinic and recipients. However, if the genetic parents retain rights, then legal paperwork must include them.
Home studies are not required. Some clinics require counseling services for all patients using "donated material" (embryos included); some do not.
Typically clinics offer only anonymous donation programs. The adoptive parents have access to whatever details the genetic parents provided which could range from full life history with pictures, to just minimal characteristics.
While other clinics may offer it on a case by case basis, Embryo Donation International (EDI) is the only clinic I know of that has an option for a level of openness.
Many clinics offer enough embryos for a single transfer only. The receiving couple typically does not receive the whole batch of embryos. Some clinics, like FIRM, allow the recipients to reserve a whole embryo set. Others do not.
Some clinics charge just the standard embryo transfer fees. Some clinics have additional fees for using embryos from their donation program.
Overall, a clinic donation program is usually the least expensive route, but with the greatest limitations.
From a Catholic perspective, there is no "morally superior" path out of the three. A potential adoptive couple should carefully weigh their personal needs, finances, and goals for the future (both their own and any resulting hypthetical children) before chosing a route. And pray, pray wholeheartedly for guidance and direction. Obviously it goes without saying that, when pursuing any route, the utmost care must be taken to preserve the dignity of each embryo.
EDIT: While I find there to be no morally superior path out of the three options, I personally have a hard time with programs that split embryo sets into single transfer portions only (usually groups of two or three). Try to keep the good of the embryos in mind, including their future well-being. Will they want to know more about their genetic parents one day? Quite possibly. Will they want to know more about their genetic siblings one day? Most likely. How important is it for you to be able to assist them in searching for answers?