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Medical Director Responds to ASRM Ethic Committee Report: Defining Embryo Donation

by Staff
June 10, 2010
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn., ( -- The medical director of a national non-profit organization whose mission is to protect the lives and dignity of human embryos recently responded to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) Ethics Committee report: Defining Embryo Donation.

Dr. Jeffrey Keenan, Medical Director of the National Embryo Donation Center (NEDC), composed a 2-page response to the committee's statement regarding embryo donation, specifically the use of the term adoption. "The primary intent of the committee in issuing their statement apparently was to discredit the term 'embryo adoption' as well as to eliminate any restrictions on this practice by those organizations that perform these services," he said.

"Although the intentions of the committee may indeed be honorable," Keenan stated, "we would like to point out several of the errors and omissions or contradictions inherent in such a position."

Throughout the 2-page response, Dr. Keenan addressed the use of the term "adoption," how it pertains to donor and recipient couples, and its legal validity.

According to Keenan, the committee has inadvertently but completely neglected consideration of the donor couples themselves, saying it is well documented that many couples with remaining embryos consider them "virtual children," "potential children," or even "our children." Citing an article in Fertility & Sterility, Keenan said the article stated these couples have "powerful concerns about the adequacy of others' caretaking of their potential offspring."

"This is an undeniable truth, and those of us working in the field are aware that the health and well being of any child(ren) born as a result of these couples' donation are first and foremost in their minds," he said, adding, "The performance of a home study is without doubt the most time-honored and accepted way of giving donation couples this assurance, as well as the best method to make certain that the resulting child(ren) are properly cared for." However, the ASRM ethics committee has stated that a home study should not be a requirement.

Keenan also disagreed with the committee's statement that the "legal term 'adoption' cannot and does not apply to embryos." He cited Georgia as an example of a state which recognizes embryo adoption as a legal entity, and pointed out there are other states with similar legislation pending.

Keenan further disagreed with the committee arguing that because "adoption" has been practiced throughout human history, it cannot also be applied to human embryos. "This is inconsistent with the ASRM's embracement of 'surrogacy,' which has also been practiced ('traditional surrogacy') for hundreds if not thousands of years, but which now is accepted to also embody surrogate parenting achieved through assisted reproduction/IVF," he said.

Additionally, Keenan directly refutes the committees' opposition of the term "embryo adoption" in favor of the term "embryo donation." He said, "Recipients of those embryos are not undergoing 'embryo donation,' but rather transfer of heterologous cryopreserved/thawed embryos -- a more accurate although less appealing and understandable term than "embryo adoption.'"

He went on to add, "Although we agree that embryo adoption is not 'adoption' as defined by the laws of most states, we again assert that the term 'embryo adoption' is a legal entity in at least one state, and could certainly become recognized as a legal entity in others, just as the new reproductive surrogacy has been recognized in many states."

Keenan believes the term "embryo adoption" gives couples a framework with which to view the process in its entirety as practiced by many entities performing this work. "It is important to note, also, that according to the 2009 Harris Poll, 30% of respondents from the general public and 80% of subscribers to an adoption agency mailing list prefer the term 'embryo adoption' to 'embryo donation.'"

Keenan also pointed out the U.S. government recognizes the use of the term "embryo adoption" as evidenced by a series of grants awarded by the Department of Health and Human Services since 2002 under the title of "Public Awareness of Embryo Adoption."

He concluded his response stating the term "embryo adoption" is appropriate, justifiable, and has the qualification necessary for the establishment of a new legal definition in all states.

"Furthermore, we believe that the concerns of all parties involved in this process must be given equal consideration and respect, including the need for proper screening of potential recipients, if desired. To do less would be in violation of our society's long standing tradition of putting our patients' needs (and those of their offspring) first."

To date, the ASRM has not responded to Dr. Keenan's manuscript.

To read Dr. Keenan's manuscript in full, go to

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