Is Embryo Adoption Adoption?

(I’m both away for the Labor Day weekend and under the weather, so this will be short.) 

Last year I followed the progress of legislation in Georgia around some aspects of assisted reproduction.   (This is the end of the line, but the link there can take you to earlier posts.)  What began, at least ostensibly, as a legislative response to the birth of octuplets to Nadya Suleman ended with a law the promotes what is called “embryo adoption.”  

The idea here is that there are said to be many embryos left over from IVF attempts that are essentially in storage.   Unlike sperm and eggs, embryos are not typically bought/sold.  This means that the extra embryos sit there until they are either disposed of or  given away so that another woman or couple can use them.   I imagine (and I’ll assume here) that most of them either remain in storage or are disposed of.  

This obviously trouble some people, including most notably those who believe that life begins at conception.   So they’d like to encourage the embryos to be given away for other couples to use.   And that’s the point of the Georgia law. 

It’s worth thinking about whether the underlying idea is a good one.  Perhaps it is.   But whether it is “adoption” is another question.    “Adoption” necessarily implies “child” and I think that means you come down on the “life begins at conception” side of the line. 

For exactly those reasons the Georgia legislature called it adoption.   But as my posts make clear, it isn’t really adoption.   I came across this quite interesting blog entry today and since it nicely ties into this discussion I wanted to call it to your attention.  

There is an adoption tax credit available to those who adopt.   This is done precisely to encourage adoption.   So does a Georgia embryo adoption qualify for that credit?   The blog post and the paper referenced argue “no.”  Worth a look.

29 responses to “Is Embryo Adoption Adoption?

  1. An interesting paradox is created by right to lifers who push “embryo adoption” as a legal construct. Access to assisted reproduction will decline in concert with the loss of privacy rights i.e reproductive freedoms, that will follow a reversal of Roe.

  2. You run into a sticky wicket here. If you call these fertilized ova a “child” that can be adopted and eligible for tax credit, ity will impact tremendously on the pro-life/pro-choice debate.

    Tax credits for adoption should be limited to only the adoption of children form foster care. They use these kids as the wedge to get this legislation passed, but then most of the money goes to help people with international adoptions while 129,000 US kids remain ignored in foster care who could be adopted. The adoption of embryos will further hurt the chances of kids in need who adoption is intended to serve.

    Another important concern about embryo adoption is that these children will join other adoptees and those conceived by AI (I cannot call the buying and selling of eggs or sperm a “donation) in their unending quest for the truth of their genetic heritage. It is important for emotional and medical reasons, in addition to avoiding incest by unknowingly being attracted to one’s sibling.

    None of these procedures should be allowed to be done anonymously. The child be created is a human being who grows into an adult and should have the same rights as other citizens in regard to know their progenitors.

    Mirah Riben, author, The Stork Market: America’s Multi-Billion Dollar Unregaulated Adoption Industry

  3. In my mind using donated gametes whether by themselves or combine is adoption. Because what is adoption? The definition is ‘to take up and make one’s own’. Well certainly, that is the basic feature of the situation when using donated gametes or an embryo. Children born from donated gametes ought to be recognized as adopted or part adopted children and be given the same state rights as other children to find out about their genetic antecedents. It should be their basic human right. Also ‘donors’ should be informed that they are supplying their gametes for adoptive purposes and just as with live babies they should not be financially encouraged to be part of the supply chain for adoption.

    As regards adoption benefits, I also believe they should be reserved exclusively for people adopting from foster-care as a matter of good policy.

    • What a lively discussion.

      I’d resist cagtegorizing children born from donated (or purchased, if you prefer) sperm as adopted. (Certainly I would not say that when a person acquires sperm in a way other than intercourse they are adopting it, but I imagine there is agreement here?

      To the extent identifying a child as adopted is useful–and I think in some ways it is–it is useful because you convey the information that the child had another set of parents or at least a parent previously. Thus, the idea of calling children concieved with donor gametes adopted is another way of saying that the gamete donors are themselves parents. If you’ve read around the blog a bit you’ll know that I do not think that those who donate gametes are therefore parents. So consistent with that, I wouldn’t call the resulting kids “adopted.”

      And I’ll add again, to save folks the time looking it up, that I see this is a completely different question from the anonymity point. Perhaps there should be no anonymous donors. If that’s your goal, I think you’d get there a lot faster if you didn’t label them “parents.”

  4. Sandy,

    I think you are mis-informed.

    “Children born from donated gametes ought to be recognized as adopted or part adopted children and be given the same state rights as other children to find out about their genetic antecedents.”

    Adoptees do NOT have right to know their genetic anetcedentsin the majority of states. Only a small handful of states allow acces to their original birth certificate.

    Upon adoption the original certificate is “sealed” a new falsified birth certificate is used listing the adoptive parents as the parents OF BIRTH! These certificates also can change the date or p;lace of birth. In most states adoptees of ANY AGE – even 90+ years – cannot access their true identifying records.

    All of these methods put the desires of those wanting to parent – which is NOT a right – above the rights of the human being they create or adopt.

  5. I know that child adoptees are still denied the fundamental right to know their genetic origins in many states. However, gamete adoptees are denied that right in even more states. That is why I wrote ‘the same state rights’. Since gamete adoptees are adoptees they ought to be given the same rights as child adoptees. I think you can guess that I believe that state laws which deny adoptees the right to know their genetic descent are basically immoral and unethical laws. Frankly I believe such laws ought to be challenged on constitutional/human rights grounds.

  6. Here’s a difference as I see it:

    Persons who ar adopted as full human beings – as is said – receive a falsified birth certificate listing their adopters as parents of birth.

    “Gamete adoptees” ARE in fact born to their “adopter” – so that kinda complicates everything in terms of calling them adopted and also makes the situation worse for adoptees. The “gamete adoptee” does not have original identity that gets erases when they are adopted.

    To make laws requiring people to inform their adopted embryo kids the truth is impossible to enforce, just like it is im[possible to enforce telling any child if sperm or egg were purchased and thus he is not biologically connected to the parents who raised him. No more than you can force anyone who cheats on their spouse and gets pregnant to reveal the trut of their father.

    What can be done is two things:

    Outlaw all ANONYMOUS surrogacy, DI, embryo adoption etc. — all of it! Ensure that records are kept and children have access to them.

    In regular adoption the situation is a bit different. Adoptees have an original birth certificate they are denied equal access to. The embryo adopted kids do not. original birth certificates of adoptees should never be “sealed” to begin with! They never were prior to the 1940s. At the very least, they deserve access to their original, but “gamete adoptees” have no original to access. They have medical records of their mother, which are protected by HIPAA law.

    Anonymity protects no one: it legalizes shame and violates rights of the parties who are denied equal access to records others have.

  7. I am completely in agreement with you that all anonymity in gamete donation ought to be abolished, and the sooner the rights of the children conceived this way rather than the all-important rights of the adults, the better. The more I consider it the more I feel that gamete donation anonymity is a terrible human rights violation that will at a later date be recognized as such.

  8. You need open records for medical records.

  9. “open records for medicl records” ius a common misconception.

    “open records” really means allowing adopted persons equal access to their original and true birth certificate.

    Medical records are protected by HIPAA law. The conception of a child would be in his/her MOTHER’S medical records and cannot be accessed by anyone other than her.

    So, the key is knowing who your mother (nd father) is and being able to ask them. Of course, they may or may not tell you the truth.

    But that’s all any of us ANY of can do!

    All you can seek is a level playing field. You cannot ask to override HIPAA and give some people special access others do not have aright to. That would totally violate the rights of their parents.

  10. Here’s an article that compares it to adoption in that the biological progenitors must relinquish their rights. It also says that most embryo adoptions are OPEN, which is a very good thing!

    It’s just a shame that all this technology leaves behind the kid sin the most need….those who adoption was supposed to serve and be all about…

  11. Please excuse my prejudices, but when the terms embryo and adoption are uttered in the same zip code, I break out in hives. That being said, it is necessary to point out a few things.

    First, “snowflakes” in its original context refers to the Snowflake program, a Christian, pro-life company which brokered embryos. Apparently so pro-life that the Bush administration was providing federal funding to them.

    As such, it is safe to say that unless your lifestyle includes a traditional marriage, you will not be considered for those programs.

    Second, the referenced article from Momlogic references “embryo adoption” as THE third choice for banked embryos.

    In fact, “secondary donation” of banked embryos is common, and can be done without the legal mumbo jumbo and costs of a so-called adoption. Attorneys can charge $18,000 to perform these so-called adoptions. Meanwhile, a secondary donation agreement provides the same legal result to the involved parties, for $1,200.

    Infertility is enough of an emotional journey without having to be exploited through religious views, marital status or financial abilities.

  12. Ah Robert, you’ve deployed the tactic that people always do when they can’t substantively attack a message – they shoot the messenger!

    So you’re attacking snowflakes for being “Christian” “pro-life” and getting funding from the Bush administration. Well get this, I’m non-religious, sincerely believe abortion is a fundamental right and yet I believe embryos should only be released to third parties via formal open adoption.

    It’s because I believe people have an absolutely basic right to know who they are descended from – genetically! I think it is extremely meaningful for most people!

  13. Sandy said: “embryos should only be released to third parties via formal open adoption”

    I have a question. Currently how is this done? They are just “transferred” like sperm or ova?

    Are you suggesting that the original progenitors relinquish their rights? Does that not occur currently? What else do you mean by “formally adopted”? A home study?

    Do you favor some way – any way – for these scientifically created human beings to know the truth and have their right to know their truth – for medical purposes and curiosity etc – be protected?

    I encourage you to listen to Dawn’s webcast interview with Adam Pertman, shortly after EBDAI published the study titled “Old Lessons for a New World: Applying Adoption Research” and Experience to Assisted Reproductive Technology” and Marna Gatlin, founder and Director of the nonprofit, Parents Via Egg Donation.

    (copy and paste all with no spaces)

  14. Robert, please explain more or provide a link to explain:

    “In fact, ‘secondary donation’ of banked embryos is common, and can be done without the legal mumbo jumbo and costs of a so-called adoption. Attorneys can charge $18,000 to perform these so-called adoptions. Meanwhile, a secondary donation agreement provides the same legal result to the involved parties, for $1,200.”

  15. Ok, I’ll bite. After this, I leave Julie to her own devices.

    Sandy, I do not attack Snowflakes. I do, however, want the e-readers to understand that the term is a proper noun, not an action verb or adjective.

    I support your right to accept the program ideals. However, adoption as a legal construct does not apply until there is life. Until the Supreme Court includes pre-embryos in that definition, an adoption is nothing more than an expensive intrusion into an Intended Parent’s life.

    As reproduction is a privacy right guaranteed by the Constitution, I am for less intrusion. It is bad enough that the government may try to intrude on my privacy rights. I do not see the logic in paying a private company to intrude.

    By the way, you reference openness. If openness is important to the Intended Parent or donor, that can be addressed in a secondary donation agreement. So you know, even with a closed donation, a good agreement will always include a back door for additional medical information.

    Now, Mirah, I googled “embryo donation” and got thousands of hits, many of which are IVF facilities. These facilities are generally thrilled to have Intended Parents make inquiries. You do not have to rely on an agency to facilitate a secondary donation.

    Finally, I can affirmatively state that the cost of a donation agreement is a fraction of an adoption. Why would anyone agree to pay for more than is needed.

    Thanks Julie.

  16. Robert, You are right that reproduction is a privacy right guaranteed by the Constitution, but it is unlikely that a third party intending to implant a strange couple’s embryo could claim a right based in privacy to obtain that embryo. I would be willing to bet my bottom dollar that the Supreme Court would not say that there is any constitutional right to reproduce with other people’s embryos. In fact technically giving birth to another person’s baby is not reproducing it is merely gestating.

    Hence, since prior to implantation there is certainly no constitutional right of intending parents to protect, I see no problem with the government creating procedures and demanding compliance with whatever rules they would want to create including adoption via court order before allowing an intending parent to implant the embryo. I certainly cannot see why a private company also should not be as stringent as they wish in vetting intended parents.

    Reproduction with one’s own gametes is a right – but no one has a right to someone else’s gametes.

    I also want to take you to task on what you said about: If openness is important to the Intended Parent or donor, that can be addressed in a secondary donation agreement.

    I think you forget in your narrow focus on the supposed rights of ‘intended parents’ that a child is being created for whom openness is important. It is irrelevant whether an intended parent cares about openness. That should not be the prerogative of the parent to decide. This is yet another reason why embryo adoption should be a court procedure – so that a person who emanates from the process has a means of tracking down his or her genetic parents.

  17. Still confused; what is SECONDARY donation???

    Where is the *right to reproduce* even in the constitution?

    The right to privacy and personal bodily autonomy have been found to exist within the constitution as well as above and beyond the constitution itself.
    “personal right: a right that forms part of a person’s legal status or personal condition, as opposed to the person’s estate.”

    Where does it say anything about the *right* to REPRODUCE, let alone to take someone else’s already produced gamete?

    And yes…the rights of the child who grows into a fully-fledged human being with allegedly rights of their own is totally separate and should always take precedent above that of any and all adults!

  18. So, if a lab tech trips, falls and spills 4 embyros on the floor and they die…. can he be charged with negligent homicide?

  19. Ok. I have read all of these messages, and I feel I must say something. I have a child through this process, with an open agreement with the donating family. First of all, I AM this child’s MOTHER. I am not just the empty vessel who “gestated” him. He is not “someone else’s baby”! I feel it’s important for him to know his genetic history, but the donor couple are most certainly not his parents. I may not have passed on the genes, but I do have this biological process with him, and he is still of MY flesh and blood. I don’t see him as adopted, I just see him as my child, who I brought into this world. Whatever he wants to know, I’ll tell him.. Whatever he wants to do, I’ll support it. It is what it is. To me, it is a miracle.

  20. Hooray for Hannah!! giving a yes to open records. xx

  21. Ma’am, I do believe you missed my point.

  22. Aren’t you all missing the point? Even in adoptions they are not required to be open. And in fact, all donor embryo facilities are required to maintain records of the donors and the recipients. At some point the laws will catch up just like other things – women’s right to vote, equality for all ,etc – adoption itself was an evolutionary process and frankly, still is. So too will be embryo donation. Just like I believe abortion is the right of all women (even though I am pro-life), I also believe that what a couple does with their embryos is their right. Your religion or my religion may not support them, but it doesn’t make my religious views the filter for what the laws should be. What right do I have to tell another person what to do with something that came from them? That came from such a personal and ardurous journey to become parents. Those facing infertility struggle with religious, financial, physical and emotional challenges. I think it is far too easy to say what you would do when you aren’t living it than to walk in someone’s shoes and experience it. As to the rights of the children born through embryo donation, they too will face what many “adopted” children go through as to who are their genetic parents. It’s the anonomity that is what precipated these children to even exist.
    And frankly, lawing this up will just benefit all the lawyers, it won’t help a child, it won’t help a family, it will only pay the lawyers.

    The right thing to do is have open and closed embryo donation similar to adoption. If you make either one completely open, there will be fewer children born, more abortions and more embryos destroyed. You may take out the ambiguity of their gentic origin, but it won’t change who gave them “life” – the parents that raise them.

    • I don’t know that I disagree about giving the creators of the embryos some control over their disposition. But they law is a rather limited tool and needs to put the embryos into some category or others in order to define those rights and also the manner in which rights can be transferred. Though I might be over-simplifying, it seems like the embryos can either be understood to be propery or they can be understood to be people. I’m really not sure there are any other categories available.

      If they are property, then they are owned and can be given. All sorts of conditional contracts can be written. If they are children, then they cannot be given pursuant to a contract and you have to involve the state and do something more like an adoption, with the procedures that entails.

      It’s possible for people to follow the contract route but call it adoption, I think. However, from a narrow legal point of view, calling it adoption doesn’t make it adoption.

  23. I agree. It’s not as black and white as someone just handing me a baby. He literally wouldn’t be here without me. However, there are no good terms in which to describe it right now, and the adoption process comes the closest in terms of the laws needed to regulate this. I would be offended if I were referred to as his adoptive mother, after everything I went through to have him, but some mothers would not be. I do anticipate many of the same issues that pertain to adoptees, in terms of genetic identity. What I don’t anticipate are many of the struggles with feelings of ababndonment that have been expressed to me by those I have spoken to who were adopted. I am planning just to be honest, and take each question as it comes.

  24. Oh, and I too believe it is the right of all couples to decide what to do with their embryos, and not to be judged for their decisions.

  25. No one has the right not to be judged, ever.

  26. Sure, but we’re not talking about a crime, but a personal life choice, and we are not the judges, unless we have walked the same path.

  27. Wow, this is quite the lively topic. As a so called “Genetic Parent”, who placed my remaining embryos for adoption, I have to say that it’s been interesting to read about people’s opinions and reactions on weather one should view such a process as an “Adoption.”

    Being a Pro-lifer, it was easy for my husband and I to take the stance that our Embryos were pre-born children and that we needed to treat them with the same respect as our own birthed children. It was a no-brainer that we would choose to place them for adoption and hope to create the best scenario possible for any children resulting from the adoption and for our birthed children, since they are 100% genetically related. We tried to put ourselves in their shoes and feel we made the best decisions we could on their behalf, so that they hopefully won’t grow up feeling like they are missing a part of their genetic history, if they get to a point where they feel that’s important to them. Also, if they want to pursue a relationship with us, when they are of age, we will gladly welcome them into our lives.

    Of course, it’s not an adoption, in the legal sense, as our state doesn’t recognize embryos as children. Instead, it was considered a “Transfer of Property.” However, to us and the Adopting Parents, it was an adoption, for all intents and purposes. We just want their children and our children to be healthy and happy, despite the mistakes we made when pursuing IVF to create our family.

    We feel we did everything in our power to put the children first, so they don’t suffer endlessly and needlessly when they hit adolescence and as young adults. It will be a part of their story from a young age, so as to “normalize” it. We feel it won’t come as such a shock vs. laying it on a platter on their 16th birthday. “Surprise – I know your hormones are raging and you’re already having an identity crisis, but I just wanted you to know we adopted you as an embryo.”

    In my opinion, both Embryo Adoption and Donation have to exist. Emryo Adoption (not in the legal sense, but in terms of placing with a family that has gone through a Home Study and has had a criminal background check, etc.) needs to be available to Genetic Families who want the Adopting Family to be screened. I don’t know about you, but there was no way I was going to place these precious embryos for adoption with people who have never been screened; who could be pedophiles or worse, and potentially abuse the children. Also, we want these children to have full access to us as adults and to anything they as of us. If they don’t want a relationship with us, that’s their choice and we will live with it.

    Embryo Donation needs to exist for Genetic Families who want to give their embryos a chance at life and do so with anominity. As a Pro-Lifer, I would rather these embryos have a chance at some kind of life, than see them destroyed at the hands of an Embryologist. I do hope that adoptees are able to gain access to more information with regard to their genetic roots, as technology and laws advance. The only reason Embryo Donation is so inexpensive (minus the cost of the transfer, meds, etc.), is because there is no real screening process of the Receiving Parents. From what I understand, very basic information is given.

    There is give and take and pros and cons to both Embryo Adoption and Embryo Donation. Neither is a perfect system, but I’m so glad they exist.

    Hannah – out of curiosity, if you don’t view yourself as an “Adopting Mother”, what do you view yourself as? I get the feeling that you’re pretending that he didn’t originate from someone else. I sense anger from you, that anyone would dare refer to you as anything other than his “Mother.” I think it has to be more about what’s best for the adoptee and less about the emotions of the Genetic or Adopting Family.

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