Legal and Ethical Considerations of Embryo Adoption


Read the first installment of this article, explaining embryo adoption, here.


Before beginning this process, both donors and adoptive parents must be aware that there are unsettled legal issues with regards to embryo donation and adoption. There are no federal and very few state laws which specifically address embryo donation and adoption. Georgia has been the first state to pass laws recognizing embryo adoption as a legal adoption process. Some states have limited statutes on embryo donation but this new topic had not yet been addressed fully by our state and federal governments. Most states, however, consider the birth parents as the legal parents of the embryo.

As in the adoption of a child already born, the embryo donation and adoption process utilizes an adoption agreement as well as consent form for relinquishment. These documents are binding legal agreements/contracts between the donor families and the adoptive families.

These contract agreements terminate parental rights of the genetic parents prior to the embryos being placed into the birth mother. Per the contract agreements, once documents are signed and finalized and the transplant occurs, the embryo belongs to the adoptive parents.

All parties involved also need to be aware that embryos have no clearly defined legal status. Our legal system is reluctant to define an embryo as property and is also reluctant to define the embryo as a human life (similar to the old and explosive issue of abortion). Keeping this in mind, agencies and legal practitioners involved in this process may differ on contract language and varying adoption programs.

Current adoption laws only apply to “born” children; however the same adoption process is utilized when embryo adoption is involved.


Fertility clinics and agencies utilize the practice that all embryos must be handled and stored with respect, just as with any human life. Incentive or profit gaining programs must be discouraged with regards to embryo donation.

Embryo adoption processes must utilize professionalism and ethical integrity for all parties involved, including the embryo itself. When seeking out an agency or legal counsel it is wise to seek those that are familiar not only with the process but with the ethical issues at hand as well.

Things to remember if you are considering embryo adoption for both donors and adoptive parents:

  • Always use a licensed agency, legal counsel, and/or fertility clinic
  • Utilize the home study process and criminal history check for adoptive parents
  • Both parties need to be keenly aware that embryo adoption is a gray legal area and not yet addressed by our Federal or State Courts
  • Do your research and be familiar with the process before you start

Invitro Fertilization (IVF) has opened another alternative to the possibility of having children to infertile couples. At the same time, it creates a question of what to do with the embryos they do not intend to utilize; embryo adoption is one possible answer to that question. While embryo adoption has brought many adoptive parents much joy, it needs to be considered as a fairly new avenue which has not yet been completely explored and may hold some inevitable risks.

Sonja Brown works as the International Program Director for MLJ Adoptionsā€™ programs in Burkina Faso, Democratic Republic of Congo, Haiti and Samoa. Sonja is also proud to work directly with our Individualized Country Program families who are adopting from countries where no adoption service providers currently operate.