The embryo adoption programme reduces the cost for couples who cannot afford their own fertility treatment and offers hope for single or lesbian women who want to have a family. A register of fertilised eggs available for adoption contains physical characteristics of both parents such as hair colour, eye colour, height and weight as well as details of their academic achievements and interests.
The sharing of donor eggs means that brothers and sisters could be born on the same day to different parents.
The project is being pioneered in America, but specialists in Britain said a similar scheme could offer hope to childless couples here.
Dr Steven Lindheim, of the department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Center for Human Reproduction, Columbia University, New York, said the average cost of treatment was a quarter to a third of the cost for traditional fertility cycles.
In a pilot project, nearly one-third of the 174 patients going to the infertility clinic asked about the embryo adoption programme. Two-thirds were interested because of financial hardship. One-third were single women and one-sixth were lesbian couples.
"Embryo adoption is a unique approach for alternative types of couples and a cost effective and efficacious means of achieving pregnancy," said Dr Lindheim.
A national registry of embryos would be extremely useful for clinics in Britain, fertility specialists in this country said yesterday.
Dr Robert Forman, medical director of the Centre for Reproductive Medicine in London, said: "It would be a very good system if more embryos were available.
"There are practical problems as 90 per cent of IVF carried out in this country is private and done in competing clinics," he said.
Barney Wyld, a spokesman for the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, said: "There is nothing to stop a national registry for embryo adoption being set up in the United Kingdom."
At the moment, couples who find they have surplus embryos are given the choice of having them destroyed, used for research purposes or donating them to another couple.
"Couples would not be allowed to profit from putting their fertilised eggs up for adoption under current legislation," Mr Wyld said.
A register of donor eggs could provoke some controversy over the criteria used to select individual embryos; the physical characteristics of the biological parents could become an overriding factor.
The latest figures show that 110 women received donated embryos in the UK in 1997, which resulted in the birth of 22 babies. The donations are made piecemeal by private arrangements between individual clinics and couples and not through a national register.Reuse content