Objective: To identify main ethical and legal issues that arise with donation of embryos left over from IVF treatments of infertility or created from separate gamete donations.
Design: Analysis of ethical commentary, advisory committee reports, statutes, court cases, and legal commentary relating to gamete and embryo donation and assisted reproduction to assess their effect on donation of created or leftover embryos.
Results: Donation of surplus embryos or embryos created from separate gamete donations would help a subset of infertile couples to form families. A program undertaking embryo donation will have to coordinate the donation of embryos from its own patients or other programs or arrange for separate gamete donations to form embryos. The main ethical issues concern the effect on offspring, consent and counseling of donors and recipients, avoidance of mixing embryos or gametes from different sources, and payment of donor expenses. The main legal issues concern whether embryo donation is viewed as gamete donation or adoption; the rearing rights and duties of donors and recipients in resulting offspring; liability; and compensation issues; and the legality of monetary compensation for donors. Donation of embryos for research raises separate issues.
Conclusion: Human embryo donation is an ethically and legally acceptable way for infertile couples to form families.