Perceptions and experiences of donating embryos for family building

Title: Perceptions and experiences of donating embryos for family building: A qualitative inquiry
Proposal Reference: SS02
Supervisory team: Dr Victoria Clarke & Dr Michal Nahman
Abstract: Donating embryos for family building is one option open to those who have ‘leftover’
embryos after fertility treatment. What limited evidence there is suggests this is one of the least
popular options for embryo disposition, and yet embryo donation is a more successful treatment for
infertility than IVF. Current estimates suggest there are 600,000 embryos in cryogenic storage in the
US, 70,000 in Australia and 50,000 each in the UK and Spain. With increasing demand for fertility
treatment globally, the number of surplus embryos is likely to increase. However there is much
debate about how best to regulate the practice of embryo donation, with widely divergent rules
internationally. To date there is no research on the experiences of people who have donated
embryos for family building, which begs questions about how potential donors in Britain and in other
countries can, as legally required, give 'informed consent' before donation. The proposed qualitative
study will explore the experiences of embryo donors from four countries, using virtual methods such
as Skype interviews and online qualitative surveys. The international focus will allow the research to
examine and compare the experience of donors in contexts where donation is open, as in some
private agencies in the US, or where disclosure is enforced through a note on the birth certificate, as
in Australia, or where clinics can donate embryos without explicit consent from couples, as in Spain.
In addition to exploring how different regulatory frameworks contextualise participants’
experiences, the research will consider the reasons why people donate and how they make sense of
the consequences of this decision for themselves and their families. Since the process of embryo
donation for family building troubles notions of biological kinship, the research will also examine
participants’ understandings of family in the context of donation. The study will thus explore how
possibilities offered by fertility treatments are changing the meanings of family in the UK and