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A Tennessee couple has agreed to relinquish custody of their six remaining cryopreserved (frozen) embryos for free to a good family, but with certain stipulations. Angel and Jeff Watts used in vitro fertilization to conceive their two sets of twins, using donor eggs and Jeff’s sperm, after many years of struggling with infertility, which resulted in an extremely expensive price tag. Now the couple wants to help another family achieve their dreams by giving their remaining embryos away for free. However, they are wanting the family that receives the free embryos to live close by so that any children born will be able to have a relationship with their biological siblings (the Watts’s children). Furthermore, they are requesting that the recipient is a married couple that has been together for several years, is of Christian faith, and that they will use all 6 embryos, raise all of the children together, not to space them too far apart in age, and not leave the remaining embryos frozen for a long time. While Jeff and Angel Watts have received many interested people, they have not found a match yet. While this couple is giving one of the greatest and most generous gifts of all to another family, these requirements seem as though the recipient could be setting themselves up for a lifetime of stipulations and inability to make choices that could be best for their family.

Embryos that are free, only with stipulations, donated from a known individual or couple can carry some possible risks. What if the donor or the Wattses decides later that they want custody? What if the Wattses don’t like the recipients parenting style…do they get a say in the upbringing since they already dictate that the parents must foster a relationship between all of the children? What if the recipients decide that a relationship with the Watts children is no longer an interest of theirs or in the best interest of the child(ren)? What happens if one or all of the stipulations required are not longer possible or preferable? What if the recipients want to move to California? With the stipulations of the free embryos with stipulations these questions must be considered. It is also imperative that the recipients speak with an attorney in Tennessee to discuss the laws regarding embryo donation.

The Watts family seems as though they have the best intentions, but it is difficult to say how they would react in one of the aforementioned situations. They seem as though they want to give these embryos a life that leaves them with little question as to where they came from, which is something common among children of anonymously donated genetic material and adopted children. Where did I come from? Who are my biological parents? An arrangement such as this one is similar to an open adoption, leaving any children born out of this arrangement the ability to answer those questions and obtain some biological history from their genetic father (Jeff Watts). However, they would still have questions as to the origin of their genetic mother, the anonymous egg donor. They would likely have some information since the donor would have had to provide her genetic history. Access to future communication with the anonymous egg donor would be difficult since the donor could refuse to be contacted through the clinic, thus leaving the child with no avenue for other questions regarding their biological makeup.

We truly hope this couple finds the perfect recipient and that the recipient will be sure to contact a professional that specializes in donor embryo arrangements to make sure they are clear on the laws of the state, future scenarios, and the expectations of this generous family.

An important issue surrounding frozen embryos has recently emerged into spotlight: What happens when parents die and leave no will or instructions for the fertility clinic regarding the disposition of their frozen embryos? A Master in Chancery appointed by a Dallas probate court has recommended that a two year old boy, whose parents were murdered, inherit their eleven frozen embryos when he turns eighteen. John Robertson, professor of law at the University of Texas at Austin, addresses the groundbreaking nature of this case in the Harvard Law Petrie-Flom Center Blog by stating that “there are no Texas or United States cases involving inheritance of frozen embryos when both parties have died and left no instructions with the clinic or in a will.”

This issue introduces the question of whether frozen embryos are considered “property” in these types of scenarios. Robertson informs us that the Master found that Texas courts have not held them to be property, nor have they found them to be worthless. He reports that as a result, the Master assigned them an implicit value under Texas’s intestacy statute since they can be the subject of an enforceable contract. If they embryos are not designated as “property,” the Master found that the boy can still retain an “ownership interest” that would give him “dispositional control” over the eleven embryos.

Robertson introduces the complex issues that arise from giving a two year old orphan dispositional control over his future siblings when he turns eighteen, including the “oddity” of asking someone so young to “decide whether to continue paying storage fees, discard [the embryos], or donate to others or to research.”

This case illustrates the various complications that ensue when parents who create embryos fail to leave directions for what should occur to their frozen embryos if they both die. Difficult, ethically questionable inquiries such as whether frozen embryos are considered property or what an eighteen year old should do when he receives control over his potential siblings are avoidable. All it takes is for persons creating embryos to provide a will or instructions with the clinic regarding the embryos’ disposition in the event of their death.

Surrogacy is a family building option for those who want a child and have not had success with other assisted reproductive technology (ART) treatments. There are two types of surrogacy — traditional and gestational — that are practiced today.

In traditional surrogacy, the surrogate is both the egg donor and surrogate, and is therefore genetically related to the child. The surrogate carries an embryo that was created with her own egg and the sperm of the intended father who, with the intended mother, will obtain legal and physical custody of the child. Traditional surrogacy can be accomplished either by intrauterine insemination (IUI) or by in vitro fertilization (IVF). The Traditional Surrogate is inseminated with the Father’s or Donor’s sperm monthly at ovulation until pregnancy occurs.

In gestational surrogacy, the surrogate gives birth to a baby created with an egg and sperm from the "intended parents," or the embryo can be created from a donor egg and/or donor sperm. The majority of surrogates today are gestational carriers and have no genetic relationship to the child born from the arrangement. IVF is used to fertilize the eggs in a laboratory. If the fertilization is successful, a fertility doctor transfers some or all of the resulting embryos (usually two or three) into to the surrogate’s uterus. After delivery, the gestational surrogate immediately surrenders the baby to the intended parent(s).

Many different people could use surrogacy as an option including couples and single women who have had multiple failed pregnancies, inability or difficulty conceiving, inability to carry a fetus to term or gay male couples who want a child with a genetic link to one of the partners.