Zygote Adoption

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zygote adoption

The transfer of a fertilized egg to a "gestational mother" who will carry the child to term and deliver and raise the child; also known as embryo adoption or adoptive pregnancy. Her husband is sometimes fertile and contributes his sperm. Comparisons are made between this process and insemination of a woman by donor or purchased sperm. In some cases, a donor egg is also used, and the fetus will not be genetically related to either of its ultimate parents.

Subsequent custody suits over embryos as well as state laws against surrogate motherhood for profit will probably limit the number of females willing to donate their eggs as well as the number of women willing to be implanted; however, there are women with an altruistic goal of helping others who will donate their eggs and zygotes.

No legal adoption probably would be required in such an instance, since the "surrogate" mother will deliver the donated zygote and her name and her husband's name will appear on the birth certificate. Court challenges could theoretically overturn this current policy.

A key disadvantage mentioned by many critics of zygote adoption is that it appears likely money would change hands, especially between a donor mother and the gestational mother who carries the child. Thus, a variation of baby selling could occur.

If an intermediary is involved, as is likely, his fees could be exorbitant. Although baby selling is illegal, it is not clear what the status of embryo transfers are, and the whole philosophy of biomedical ethics is still evolving.

In addition, the problem of many infertile couples-the denial of infertility-is clearly a potential problem in zygote adoption, where the surrogate mother can represent to herself and others that the child is genetically her own child.

Parents may choose not to tell the child at all of the genetic heritage, which could result in serious trauma if and when the child later learns he or she is not genetically related to the mother and/or father. It is also very difficult to obtain genetic nonidentifying (or identifying) information about the donor mother, since records are generally kept in strictest confidentiality.

Some sperm bank donors have given permission for their names to be released when the child is over 18, and such a policy or a policy to release nonidentifying information could be adapted by organizations that facilitate embryo adoptions; however, it appears unlikely.


Cynthia J. Bell, "Adoptive Pregnancy: Legal and Social Work Issues," Child Welfare 65 (September/October 1986): 421-435.

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