When an individual or couple completes the in vitro fertilization process and successfully produces a pregnancy or multiple pregnancies, they may have additional fertilized embryos for which they have no continuing use. In this case, they may choose to donate these cryopreserved or frozen embryos to other couples who are trying to have a child. The donated embryos are then implanted into the recipient woman’s uterus (or that of a gestational carrier), and she carries the child to term, becoming the legal mother of the resultant child, and the donor has no legal rights to the child. This process is similar to that of egg or sperm donation, although, generally, the original owners of the embryos are not compensated for this donation.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has established rules for the screening of embryo donors for infectious disease. If the donors cannot be screened for some reason, the embryos must be labeled as lacking the required screening, and the recipients must choose to accept this risk or perform further available tests on the embryo before implantation.


Usually, individuals or couples who are recipients of embryo donations have some level of infertility which makes the creation of their own embryo through sperm or egg donation not a viable option. Another consideration, however, is that using an embryo donated from another couple is usually less costly than using an egg donor, which convinces some people to take advantage of this option. Commonly, embryo recipients will be using the same in vitro fertilization clinic as the donors. In this case, the donation may either be anonymous or semi-anonymous, meaning that the prospective parents are given limited information about the donor(s) and their family history, but identifying details are still withheld.


Embryo donation is legally considered a transfer of property, not an adoption of a child. Therefore, typically, reproductive law attorneys, medical professionals, and in vitro fertilization clinics refer to this process as “embryo donation;” however, some writers will use the term “embryo adoption” interchangeably. You may thus hear the term “embryo adoption” in reference to this process, and there are “adoption-agency-based” national programs which facilitate embryo donation but use this alternative terminology. These agencies may treat the process as more of an adoption.

In this case, the embryo donor(s) may have the option of screening and selecting individuals or couples before choosing to whom they wish to donate their embryos. In this case, the ownership of the embryo is transferred directly from one couple to another, rather than from one couple to a clinic who might then choose the recipients at a later date. Prospective “adoptive” parents, in this case, will fill out an application and may complete an adoption home study, which might include an assessment of their home, personal and family background, employment history, and medical records. While none of these “adoption” processes are required by law, some genetic and “adopting” parents choose to participate in such a program for increased transparency and the additional safeguards that the agency provides.


Embryo donation for research is another common choice for many individuals and couples who go through IVF treatments and have additional embryos. Stem cells, which are gleaned from embryos, are currently used for all kinds of research that may aid in finding cures for various major diseases such as Alzheimer’s, cancer, Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and Parkinson’s disease. If given the option, many people in the United States would choose to donate unused embryos to science, but the IVF clinic that the donor is using must be registered with licensed research facilities in order for the donation to take place. Sometimes, the donors will have the opportunity to speak with a representative from the research facility to ask questions and get more information on the process.


An attorney with experience navigating the legal details of assisted reproductive technologies can ensure that all documents related to the transfer of embryos are comprehensive and complete. At Pinnacle Law Firm, we will draft and review Embryo Donation Contracts and legal clearance letters required by IVF clinics and other agencies. We can also help prospective parents with other considerations depending on the individual case, such as reproductive estate planning, financial compensation and payment of related fees, psychological reviews, and the possibility of future contact between all parties. To discuss your goals and concerns, call attorney Corlandos Scott today at (818) 707-5236 or contact him online.