We interviewed Mark Mellinger from the National Embryo Donation Center to learn more about a process known as embryo donation/adoption.

What is embryo donation and why is it important in the world of adoption? 

Embryo donation is the process in which one couple makes embryos remaining from in-vitro fertilization (IVF) available for “adoption” by other couples. I put the term in quotes because under the law, embryo adoption is not technically considered adoption, but a property transfer. The couple who created the embryos agrees to relinquish custody of them to another couple. The “adopting” couple, of course, will have the embryos implanted through a frozen embryo transfer (FET) and hope that they mature all the way to birth.

It’s important because, in our view, these embryos are the tiniest of human lives and should be treated with the utmost care and dignity. It’s also the only way for a mother to actually carry her adopted child, so if that experience of pregnancy is important, this is an option of which adoptive parents should be aware.

Which problems are most common with this process?

Well, there are no guarantees that the process will be successful, as with any assisted reproductive technology (ART) or adoption procedure. Our success rate of 50 percent is actually quite high.

What is something all infertile parents would do well to know?

They would do well to know that they’re not alone. In fact, estimates suggest 1 in every 7 to 8 reproductive-aged couples is struggling with infertility. There are a lot of resources out there –including support groups- that they should consult in order to make the best decision in terms of pursuing solutions. One problem we have found is that relatively few couples know about the option of embryo donation/ embryo adoption. It can actually be a terrific solution for many who are experiencing the trial of infertility.

How long have you been around? Have you been able to help a good number of families fulfill their dream of having a child?

We were officially formed as a nonprofit in 2003, began doing FETs in 2004 and had our first embryo adoption births in 2005. In a little over 11 years, we have had more than 600 babies born through our program. That’s the most of any embryo adoption program in the world by a good amount. No other program has reached the 600-birth milestone.

How do your costs compare with those for traditional adoption?

Embryo adoption is more affordable than almost all forms of domestic and international adoption. The exception, of course, would be adoption through the foster care system. Embryo adoption is also more affordable than IVF. It generally costs $8000 to $10,000 total (that includes outside fees for items like medication) for a first transfer through our program.

What kind of resources are available for people interested in learning more about embryo donation?

We have comprehensive information, including several Q and A sections, on our website: www.embryodonation.org.

What makes the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC) unique?

We are the only comprehensive, medically-based nonprofit of our kind. All of the medical, social and legal parts of the process are handled in one place with the NEDC. There are other embryo donation/ embryo adoption programs that handle the “matchmaking” part of the process (we also handle the matchmaking part), but we actually have a medical staff that performs the procedures in addition to that. The FETs are performed with expert care at our main facility in Knoxville, TN or our Milwaukee, WI affiliate.