What is Embryo Donation? For Couples Who Can’t Get Pregnant


Embryo donation is one of the last hopes for couples who can’t get pregnant. Here are a few facts about getting donated embryos from couples who tried in vitro fertilization (IVF).

“Infertility often makes a couple feel lonely, empty and incomplete,” says the National Embryo Donation Center. “When couples go through fertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, there is often an excess of fertilized eggs (embryos) that are frozen and stored for later use. When the genetic parents decide that their family is complete and embryos are still available, they are faced with a dilemma: donating their embryos to research, thawing them and letting them die, or donating them to a couple who is unable to conceive. Many believe that embryo donation and adoption is the most life-honoring solution to this difficult choice.”

To learn more about fertility treatments and getting pregnant, read Is Your Body Baby-Friendly? Unexplained Infertility, Miscarriage & IVF Failure – Explained and Treated.

And, here is a summary of embryo donation from in vitro fertilization procedures…

What is Embryo Donation?

When couples go through infertility treatments, such as in vitro fertilization, there is often an excess of fertilized eggs or embryos that are frozen and stored for later use. When the genetic parents (the IVF couple) decides their family is complete and the embryos are still available, they can donate their embryos to research, thaw them and let them perish, or donate them to a couple who can’t get pregnant naturally.

Many people believe that embryo donation is the most life-honoring solution to the decision of what to do with “leftover” or extra embryos.

Embryo donation involves the transfer of a human embryo from a donor couple to a recipient woman. Under this legally binding contract, all responsibilities for the embryo(s) and delivered children transfer to the recipient.

Embryo donation is different from egg or sperm donation. Unlike embryo donation, neither egg nor sperm (gamete) donation procedures result in the birth of a child.  Embryos are established entities which, given “appropriate conditions”, can lead to the birth of a child. According to Canadian law, embryos represent more than sperm and egg (a gamete) but less than a living child because “appropriate conditions” are still required.

Embryo donation is not surrogacy. In a surrogacy arrangement, an agreement is made for a woman to carry a pregnancy on behalf of the intended parents. The surrogate may or may not have any genetic link to the child she is carrying, but is considered the birth mother when a child is born.   With embryo donation, donors relinquish all rights to the embryo and resulting child prior to transfer. The recipient carries the embryo to term and becomes the delivered child’s birth mother. Surrogacy is regulated under the AHR Act (2004) and there can be no payment, or facilitating surrogacy arrangements.

Embryo donation is different from infant adoption because donation relates to the medical and legal transfer of tissue between patients. Embryo donation involves a medical procedure to transfer genetic tissue (the embryo) created by two parties (the donors) to a recipient or couple who can’t get pregnant. If successful, a child is born to the recipient mother. Since she gives birth to the child, she is considered the birth mother and legal parent of the child. Adoption is a process that involves the legal transfer of parental rights and responsibilities from the birth mother to the adopting couple. In contrast with a donated embryo, consent for adoption cannot be given until after the birth of the child.

My husband and I wish to participate in an embryo donation program, and are looking for a couple who has started their family with in vitro fertilization and wishes to donate their embryos. If you can help, please comment below!



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2 thoughts on “What is Embryo Donation? For Couples Who Can’t Get Pregnant

  • Laurie Post author

    Hi Janey,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your experience of not getting pregnant. It really is a painful journey.

    We did not find a couple willing to donate their embryos, mostly because we live in Vancouver, BC, and there aren’t any fertility clinics who offer embryo donation as a service. Not in this province, anyway – though I know other provinces and states have embryo donation.

    So, embryo donation hasn’t worked out for us. It’s a great idea and I’m sure it helps lots of couples get pregnant, but not us.

    Have you tried other types of fertility treatments? Do you know why you can’t get pregnant?

  • Janey

    Hi Laurie, I have just discovered this site and am finding solace in many of the postings. thank you. My husband and I have been trying to conceive for a number of years. many months of sobbing holding a negative preg test stick and two devastating miscarriages later I feel that we need to draw a line under our journey….but…and there is always a but..:) the idea of embryo donation appeals to me too. i notice this post dates back a couple of years and wonder if you had responses? what you have found out subsequently? best wishes Janey