The ethics of embryo donation: What are the moral similarities and differences of surplus embryo donation and double gamete donation?

E H Huele, E M Kool, A M E Bos, B C J M Fauser, A L Bredenoord

Published: 1 October 2020


Over the years, the demand for ART with donated embryos has increased. Treatment can be performed using donated ‘surplus embryos’ from IVF treatment or with embryos intentionally created through so-called ‘double gamete donation’. Embryo donation is particularly sensitive because treatment results in the absence of a genetic link between the parent(s) and the child, creating complex family structures, including full genetic siblings living in another family in the case of surplus embryo donation. In this paper, we explore the ethical acceptability of embryo donation in light of the similarities and differences between surplus embryo donation and double gamete donation. We will argue that no overriding objections to either form of embryo donation exist. First of all, ART with donated embryos respects patients’ reproductive autonomy by allowing them to experience gestational parenthood. It also respects IVF patients’ reproductive autonomy by providing an additional option to discarding or donating surplus embryos to research. Second, an extensive body of empirical research has shown that a genetic link between parent and child is not a condition for a loving caring relationship between parent(s) and child. Third, the low moral status of a pre-implantation embryo signifies no moral duty for clinics to first use available surplus embryos or to prevent the development of (more) surplus embryos through double gamete donation. Fourth, there is no reason to assume that knowledge of having (full or half) genetically related persons living elsewhere provides an unacceptable impact on the welfare of donor-conceived offspring, existing children of the donors, and their respective families. Thus, patients and clinicians should discuss which form of ART would be suitable in their specific situation. To guarantee ethically sound ART with donated embryos certain conditions have to be met. Counselling of IVF patients should involve a discussion on the destination of potential surplus embryos. When counselling donors and recipient(s) a discussion of the significance of early disclosure of the child’s mode of conception, the implications of having children raised in families with whom they share no genetic ties, expectations around information-exchange and contact between donor and recipient families or genetically related siblings is warranted. Importantly, conclusions are mainly drawn from results of empirical studies on single gamete donation families. To evaluate the welfare of families created through surplus embryo donation or double gamete donation additional empirical research on these particular families is warranted.

Full Access Link: Human Reproduction