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European Society of Human Reproduction Presents Cross Border Embryo Adoption

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Institut Marquès presents at the 38th Congress of the European Society of Human Reproduction its experience in taking in embryos from different European clinics to donate them to other families.

Spanish law allows the donation of frozen embryos after an assisted reproduction treatment, and this causes many patients to request the transfer of their ‘surplus’ embryos so they can be adopted.

In 2004, Institut Marquès, an international centre for assisted reproduction, decided to adopt the embryos that remained undestined in its laboratories. 18 years later, patients of 124 nationalities have come to this centre in Barcelona to adopt them.

More than 2,000 babies have been born thanks to this initiative. This pioneering programme takes in embryos from young, healthy couples who completed their In Vitro Fertilisation cycle and entrusted the clinic with the future of those they no longer needed.

Since its implementation, the Embryo Adoption programme of Institut Marquès has been very well received by different groups. Its global impact has led people worldwide to contact the centre expressly to offer their embryos, which are frozen in other clinics, as donations.

Institut Marquès has presented this phenomenon to the European medical community with a presentation at the 38th Congress of the European Society of Human Reproduction (ESHRE), held until 6th July in Milan.

Dr Borja Marquès explained in his presentation at the ESHRE: ‘After IVF treatment, many patients have frozen embryos . In most European countries, the laws do not allow patients to decide the fate of their ‘supernumerary’ embryos.’

‘More and more people decide to donate them so that other people can also become parents. Many of these patients contact us because they have heard about our Embryo Adoption programme and want to send us their embryos from the clinic where they are frozen.’

In 2018, Institut Marquès began receiving requests from all over the world from patients requesting the transfer of their surplus embryos to the Barcelona clinic. Due to legal difficulties, only cases from European countries are currently being studied. 

Forty seven cases have been evaluated, and 17 embryos from Italy, Belgium, Ireland and Greece have been accepted. To be accepted, these embryos must meet certain essential medical requirements and have all the information from the embryology laboratory from which they originate.

‘Most people who keep their embryos frozen in different European countries do not know the possibility of donating them to an embryo adoption programme in Spain. That is why we cannot know what percentage of patients who wish to donate their cross-border embryos would be able to do so.’

‘The requests that we have received at Institut Marquès come from patients of a high socioeconomic and cultural level who can be informed and take charge of the transfer of their embryos to Spain,’ says Dr López-Teijón, Director of Institut Marquès.

The majority prefer the clinic to choose the destination of the frozen embryos

In Spain, patients who complete reproductive cycles can either keep them at the cost of preservation, donate them to research or other couples, or destroy them.

According to a study by Institut Marquès, 63% of British patients who complete an Assisted Reproduction cycle do not communicate the destination they wish to give to the embryos they did not use in the treatment they followed to become parents.

The Spanish law establishes that, after two requests without a response from the patients, the embryos become available to the clinics, which can choose to destroy them or keep them for research or, as in the case of Institut Marquès, offer them as a donation to other couples.

Dr López-Teijón explains: ‘Patients prefer not to respond to the clinic’s requests because this decision poses a difficult situation and triggers emotional conflicts. They value the embryos so much that they prefer us to choose the best option for them.’

The data from the study of Institut Marquès referring to the UK are clear. 63% do not communicate the destiny they wish to give to the embryos that they did not use in the treatment they followed to become parents and leave their future in the hands of the clinic. 29% opt to keep them, assuming the cost of their preservation. 3% opt to destroy them, 3% decide to offer them for research, and 2% prefer donating them to other couples.

By nationalities, at Institut Marquès, Irish patients are the ones who most often choose to give up their frozen embryos for adoption.

Who adopts these embryos?

72% of patients who request the adoption of embryos do so because of infertility problems caused by ovarian ageing, severe male infertility or previous failures in Assisted Reproduction techniques. These are couples who have tried other treatments without success.

On average, they have been trying to have a baby for more than four years, with 4.4 unsuccessful attempts. Six out of ten embryo adopters had already abandoned the treatments, giving up on the idea of becoming parents. 18% of the adopters are women without a male partner.

Some 10% are people who go directly to embryo adoption for moral reasons and do not consider infertility treatments for ethical or religious reasons. The probability of success for each embryo adoption transfer cycle at Institut Marquès is 57%.

How does embryo adoption work?

The embryos assigned to this adoption programme come from healthy patients under 35 years of age who have successfully undergone In Vitro Fertilisation treatment. In many cases, they come from donating eggs or sperm. This donation is completely anonymous.

At Institut Marquès, the embryos are assigned through a computer system that ensures that each child is born in a different country or autonomous community to the other embryos resulting from the same treatment. This avoids future consanguinity.

According to Spanish law, the adoption of embryos does not require official formalities but only the signing of informed consent in which the adopting couple or woman explicitly acknowledges their knowledge of the process.

The medical treatment for embryo adoption is simple and painless. Once devitrified, the embryos are transferred without hospitalisation. After 10 days, a pregnancy test is performed, and from then on, the pregnancy progresses as a normal one.

Differences between adoption and embryo donation

The difference is legal. In the donation programme, the embryos come from couples who have expressly and in writing ceded them to other couples. In the adoption programme, they have not chosen the destination of the embryos. They remain in the legal custody of the centre.

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