Assisted Reproduction: Definitions and Terms of ART
Updated: Mar 16
Assisted Reproductive Technology ("ART") attorneys, reproductive endocrinologists ("RE"), and obstetrician/gynecologists ("OB/GYN") use acronyms so frequently, we forget newcomers may not readily understand.
Individuals navigating assisted reproduction as a means of family formation have enough to think about without a steep learning curve in order to communicate with the professionals assisting them. It doesn't help that sometimes terms are used inconsistently or have different meanings depending on the practitioner or the laws of each state.
A guide to the most frequently used ART terms and acronyms and what they mean:
Assisted reproductive technology (ART): any treatment involving sperm, eggs, or embryos. Examples of ART include in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intra uterine insemination (IUI).
Third Party Reproduction is defined by the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM) as: the use of eggs, sperm, or embryos that have been donated by a third person to enable an infertile individual or couple to become parents.
Gamete: A cell that when combined with another gamete can become an embryo. Generally speaking, this term refers to sperm or eggs.
Embryo: An egg that has been fertilized and is capable of developing into a living human being after being transferred into a uterus. There can be a distinction made between embryos and pre-embryos. ** This is a loaded definition. Depending on which court you ask,
Intrauterine Insemination (IUI): a procedure in which sperm is placed directly into the uterus by a small catheter with the goal of fertilization and conception. IUI improves the chances of fertilization by increasing the number of healthy sperm that reach the fallopian tubes when the woman is most fertile.
In Vitro Fertilization (IVF): a procedure where one to several eggs is surgically removed from the ovary/ovaries and fertilized outside a uterus in a laboratory. The fertilized egg, now considered an embryo, is then implanted into a uterus of an intended parent or a gestational carrier.
Reciprocal IVF: the arrangement where one woman provides the egg(s), retrieved and fertilized with donor sperm through IVF, and the other woman has the embryo(s) transferred to her uterus in order to gestates the pregnancy. This arrangement allows both women in a lesbian couple to participate in the pregnancy and is becoming increasingly common. For more information about reciprocal IVF, read my blog post: LGBT Family Building: Reciprocal IVF.
Embryo Transfer: formation of an embryo in vitro and then inserted into the uterus of a person who will gestate the pregnancy. Embryo transfer without a qualifying word generally implies "Fresh embryo transfer" where the embryo is created in vitro and inserted into the uterus of a parent or gestational carrier without cryopreservation.
Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET): The transfer of an embryo that has been thawed from cryopreservation.
Donor: an individual who provides sperm, eggs, or embryos for use in assisted reproduction to conceive a child without the intention of being a legal parent. The definition of donor does not apply when an individual is providing sperm, eggs, or embryos to a spouse or partner in order to conceive a child with the intention of being a parent.
Cryopreservation: the freezing and storage of gametes or embryos for future use.
Gestational Carrier: a woman who carries a child she is not genetically related to for the benefit of the intended parents or intended parent.
Traditional Surrogate: a woman who both provides the egg and carries a child for the benefit of the intended parents or intended parent.
Laws relating to surrogacy and gestational carrier arrangements vary by state. It is important to consult with an assisted reproduction attorney licensed in the relevant state before embarking on any surrogacy journey. For an overview of surrogacy laws in each state, check out this US Surrogacy Law Map.
To learn more about surrogacy, read:
Gestational Carrier Agreement/Surrogacy Agreement: a legally binding contract by which all parties agree to place Ann embryo into the gestational carrier. Each state has different laws surrounding gestational carrier agreements, their legalities.
Egg Donation Agreement: a legally binding contract in which an individual donates their eggs to a recipient couple or individual for the purpose of the recipient(s) conceiving and bearing a child or children without the donor retaining any proprietary interest in the donated eggs or parental rights to any child born from the eggs.
Sperm Donation Agreement: a legally binding contract in which an individual donates their sperm to a recipient couple or individual for the purpose of the recipient(s) conceiving and bearing a child or children without the donor retaining any proprietary interest in the donated sperm or parental rights to any child born from the sperm.
Embryo Donation Agreement: a legally binding contract in which embryo donors give their remaining embryos from a previous IVF cycle to recipient parents without retaining any proprietary interest in the embryos or parental rights to children born from the embryos.
Embryo Disposition Agreement: a legally binding contract signed by a couple addressing what will happen to their frozen embryos in the event of death or divorce.
Posthumous Reproduction: the use of cryopreserved gametes or cryopreserved embryos belonging to a person, now deceased, in order to achieve pregnancy and have a child or children. Laws relating to posthumous reproduction vary by state, and the status of children born through posthumous reproduction are unclear. I anticipate there will be a great amount of litigation regarding posthumous reproduction with continual advances in reproductive science.
Fertility Preservation: a term used for any assisted reproductive method intended to delay decisions regarding family building by providing future options. Fertility preservation can include egg freezing, embryo freezing, sperm banking, and ovarian tissue freezing. Individuals seeking fertility preservation often due so before gender affirmation surgery, after being diagnosed with an underlying medical condition, or before undergoing cancer treatments. Of course, some single individuals choose to bank their sperm or eggs for future use as a social choice as opposed to a medical decision.