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Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Center for Advanced Studies in Child Welfare

Are embryo adoptions the same as other adoptions?

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This guest blog post was written by Min Hae Cho.

I am interning at the Children's Home Society and Family Services. Several weeks ago I had an opportunity to join a domestic adoption case consultant meeting. During the meeting, an embryo adoption issue was brought up. A client applied for domestic infant adoption and at the same time was trying embryo adoption, which really intrigued me because I had never heard about embryo adoption before. I did know the term "embryo" but I was not able to match "embryo" with "adoption." After that, I looked up lots of websites and literature to learn about embryo adoption. The more information about embryo adoption I obtained, the more confused and complicated I feel. Still, it is difficult for me to stay grounded and focused because of too many ideas flowing in mind.

I first watched news titled "Local family among first to try open embryo adoption arrangement" by Heather Graf on KING 5 News website (KING 5, 2013). It describes that the family who adopted embryos and their adopted child all have been faring well. The news talked about Rachel and Diony Victorin's embryo adoption story. They tried IVF for four times but failed to get pregnant. At that time, they heard about embryo adoption, which made their dream come true. They got an embryo donation and nine months later gave birth to their daughter, Esther Victorin. After that, they decided on open adoption, so have been contacted by genetic family.

It is certain that embryo adoption creates an opportunity for infertile couples to have a baby from gestating a pregnancy through giving birth. Moreover, being pregnant provides the prospective adoptive mothers with the opportunity to bond with their unborn children in utero. Given that attachment is one of the most important issues in adoption, embryo adoption enables the relationships between adoptive parents and their children to begin far more smoothly and easily. The mass media is filled with these positive aspects of embryo adoption.

Despite such advantages of embryo adoption, many questions crossed my mind and made me confused. First, gestating through embryo implantation is also risk-taking. For example, there are many risks factors such as the possibility of multiple pregnancies, very low success rates in thawing embryos and transferring embryos into the woman's uterus (Moore, 2007). In addition, it is extremely costly.

Second, if the embryo adoption is not confidential, all the issues related to adoption are still there. According to Silverstein & Kaplan (1986), there are the seven core issues in adoption including loss, rejection, guilt/shame, grief, identity, intimacy, and control. In case of embryo adoption, the adoption triad members cannot avoid these issues either. They have no choice but to go through the same lifelong issues. For example, adoptive parents grieve the many losses involved in their infertility regardless of how their children were conceived. Also, adopted children might deal with the arbitrary nature of embryo adoption, which means that they were transferred to their adoptive parents because a physician chose their embryos. Even for genetic parents, the loss of a genetic child might never go away completely unless they keep their donation secret. Concealing such issues does not make it go away themselves because there might always be reminders like questions from doctors they will see about adopted children's medical history, and talks with others about who they look like. In this sense, what is better in embryo adoption than traditional adoption? Unless the adoption triad members are free from the adoption issues, it seems like that the mass media sugarcoats the reality of embryo adoption.

Third, I pondered over the purpose of adoption. The Child Welfare League of America Standards for Adoption Service (1998) states that "the primary purpose of adoption service is to help children who would not otherwise have a family life, to become members of a family that can give them the love, care, protection and opportunities essential for their healthy personal growth and development. The placement of children for adoption has as its main objective the well-being of children." Personally, I feel strange about extending the use of the term "adoption" to embryos. Specifically, when I am concerned about the number of children waiting to be adopted now. In 2011, 400,540 children were in the foster care system and approximately 25% of these children (104,236) were waiting to be adopted (The AFCARS Report, 2012). At this point, I hold that embryo adoption puts the children awaiting adoptions at a disadvantage. Also, I even feel like that embryo adoption is biased toward adoptive parents' interests rather than the child's best interests.

Last, regarding laws regulating embryo adoption, many states have been tackling this issue (Dostalik, 2010). Embryo adoption agencies in many states have used the same procedures used in traditional adoption case. Understandably, the current embryo adoption procedure leads to some legal issues such as invalidating consent to adoption given by the genetic parents.

Besides whether or not the current legal status of embryos is considered as human beings, significant and complicate practical obstacles still remain, so I think that it is premature to extend the term "adoption" to embryo donation.


  • AFCARS Report. (2012). Retrieved March 9, 2013 from this link.
  • Dostalik, M. P. (2010). Embryo "adoption"? the rhetoric, the law, and the legal consequences. Retrieved February 26, 2013 from this link.
  • KING 5. (2013). Local family among first to try open embryo adoption arrangement. (2012). Retrieved February 18, 2013 from this link.
  • Moore, A. K. (2007). Embryo adoption: the legal and moral challenges. Retrieved February 26, 2013 from this link.

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