The New Frontier Of Embryo 'Adoption' The popularity of in vitro fertilization has resulted in hundreds of thousands of unused human embryos. A handful of Christian adoption agencies want new families to "adopt" the embryos.

The New Frontier Of Embryo 'Adoption'

The New Frontier Of Embryo 'Adoption'

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The popularity of in vitro fertilization has resulted in hundreds of thousands of unused human embryos frozen in storage. A handful of Christian adoption agencies want new families to "adopt" the embryos. NPR's Arun Rath hears from Daniela Hernandez, who wrote about this practice for Fusion.


Three years ago, Jenny Granados and her husband Richard wanted a second child, but the doctor gave them some bad news. They couldn't get pregnant again on their own.

JENNY GRANADOS: We had looked into doing traditional adoption. And through traditional adoption, we had learned about embryo adoption.

RATH: She's talking about frozen embryos. There are a lot of them available. When a woman goes through in-vitro fertilization, multiple embryos are created for potential future siblings and as a backup because the process isn't always successful. The leftover embryos can be donated to science or other would-be parents like the Granados. They went through a Christian organization called Nightlight to find the right match. Jenny and Richard created a profile explaining their background and preferences, then started looking through donor profiles.

GRANADOS: Allen and Angela were actually the first one that we got. And so we looked at their profile, and it was just - they just seemed like they were a perfect fit for us (laughter).

RATH: That perfect fit came with eight frozen embryos, one of which became Jennie's now-18-month-old son, Abel. He was one of about 400 births by embryo donation in 2013. Daniela Hernandez wrote about the Granados and embryo donation for Fusion. Hernandez says that with the rise of IVF treatments since the 1970s, the U.S. has ended up with a bank of over 600,000 embryos in storage.

DANIELA HERNANDEZ: Most of those are still earmarked for the couples that produce them. A few, I think somewhere around 3 to 5 percent, are for research. And then the rest, which is about 60,000, are up for donation. Because of all that, people who believe that life begins at conception see these frozen embryos as little souls frozen in time, and so they wanted them to have a chance at life.

RATH: So these agencies that you write about - I just want to be clear - they're not like a traditional fertility clinic. They're doing this for a religious reason. They have, like, a religious mandate.

HERNANDEZ: They are religiously affiliated. They also have clinics that they work with. So no, they're not doling out reproductive services. The way that it was described to me by several people was that it's like the eHarmony of babies.

RATH: So are these agencies only helping conservative Christian couples or only placing embryos in those households?

HERNANDEZ: They say that they are open but that the choice of who the embryos go to is ultimately in the hands of the donors. And as one of the couples that I talked to said, because they, the organizations, are affiliated with Christian organizations, they tend to attract Christian organizations. And so even though they don't seem to be actively discriminating, there is that filtering.

RATH: What is this legally? Is it adoption, or is this something else?

HERNANDEZ: It's kind of a quagmire (laughter). The lawyer - one of the lawyers that I spoke to said that there is not a single uniform way to do this. Some state courts have said that the embryo is property, others that it's somewhat of a person and others somewhere in between. There's only a handful of states that actually have laws that explicitly say anything about embryo donation. And so it gets really sticky when you are dealing with donors and recipients who are not in the same state.

RATH: Fertility treatments - you know, in-vitro fertilization, you know, the drugs - they can be very expensive. How does implanting embryos compare?

HERNANDEZ: Typically, it actually ends up being a bit cheaper. If you're comparing it to IVF, the most - one of the most expensive parts is actually creating the embryos, and that part has already been taken care of. Traditional adoptions I think range $30,000 to $40,000. And so again, the highest number that I heard for embryo donation was $25,000. So it's still a little bit cheaper, a little bit of a bargain, but that also will vary depending on obviously how many cycles it takes for you to get pregnant.

RATH: Daniela Hernandez is a senior writer at Fusion. Daniela, thanks very much.

HERNANDEZ: Thank you.

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