Donation vs. Adoption: What’s the Difference?

Nowadays, more and more couples are choosing to use donated embryos to complete their families. In fact, the number of frozen embryo transfers (FETs) performed using donated embryos has doubled since 2009. And even though there has been a significant rise in popularity, one of the biggest facts about this family building method is still widely unknown.

There is a difference between embryo donation and embryo adoption.

People tend to think you can use the terms interchangeably, or that the term donation is actually the “correct” way to describe the process. However, there are notable differences in the processes of donation and adoption of embryos.

Embryo donation is most often done through a fertility clinic, or the organization is affiliated with a specific clinic. Frequently, the embryo donation program is only open to individuals or families who are already established patients of that particular clinic. There are only a handful of clinics who make their embryo donation programs open to all. In embryo donation, there is also little to no involvement with the family who donated the embryos. The medical staff will normally choose which patients will receive particular donated embryos. It is not uncommon to have embryos donated by one family, and therefore genetically the same, divided between multiple recipients. This process is still largely anonymous, meaning donor and recipient will never know about one another nor any pregnancy outcomes. Are there genetic siblings to my children out there in the world?

In contrast, embryo adoption is completed through an adoption agency (or an organization choosing to follow an adoption model) and is comparable to a traditional adoption process. Similar services and guidelines are followed as with a domestic adoption: home study services, legal work, post birth support, education, and resources are available to adopting families and placing families (a.k.a. donors). The social and emotional aspects of this unique family building option are the agency's focus. Thus, matches are typically mutually agreed upon by the adopting and placing families. Finally, adopting families will typically receive all the embryos that the donor family has remaining, and they will not be split between families.

You can find our lists of embryo donation programs and adoption agencies here. To learn more about embryo donation and adoption, visit embryoadoption.org.