Even with all the advances in assisted reproduction techniques, some couples still find they’re unable to conceive due to a lack of healthy eggs or sperm.

The use of donor eggs or sperm gives such couples the opportunity to have children that are at least partly genetically related to them.

Donor sperm can also be used by single women and women in same-sex relationships who wish to have children.

This article is written by Jackie Griffiths, a freelance journalist who writes health, medical, biological, and pharmaceutical articles for national and international journals, newsletters and web sites.

Important considerations

The donor process must be considered carefully by all concerned before treatment begins. All parties are recommended to undergo counselling to ensure they’re comfortable with the many difficult moral, legal, and ethical issues involved. Donors must understand that they may never know anything about the child they have helped to create while recipients must come to terms with the concept that their child is not fully genetically theirs.

Who can benefit?

Donor eggs and sperm can be used to help anyone who is experiencing fertility problems, as long as the recipient mother has a healthy uterus and is physically capable of carrying the baby.

Donor eggs and sperm are particularly useful in cases of:

  • Irregular or absent periods
  • Fully absent sperm
  • Damaged or removed ovaries or testes
  • Early menopause
  • Menopausal or post-menopausal women
  • Repeated lack of response to IVF treatment

Donor eggs or sperm are also recommended where natural reproduction would pose a risk to the child, for example:

  • If one of the parents has a genetic disease, such as haemophilia or muscular dystrophy
  • If one of the parents has a non-genetic disease, such as HIV or Hepatitis
  • If the parents have Rhesus incompatible blood
  • If either parent’s infertility problem may be passed on to the child

Where can you find a donor?

Some people prefer to use a close friend or relative as their donor because they know and trust them. However, this can prove emotionally complicated in the long term. What’s more, the donor may not be the ideal physical candidate.

This is why most people prefer to use anonymous donors arranged through their fertility clinic. These donors are thoroughly screened to ensure the healthiest and most compatible sperm or eggs. This method also gives recipients a wider choice, allowing people to select a donor who closely matches the ‘missing’ partner’s physical characteristics and character traits.

How the process works

All potential donors are psychologically counselled and thoroughly screened for a range of infectious diseases including HIV, Hepatitis, Syphilis, and Cystic Fibrosis. They are also asked to give as much detail about themselves as possible, such as education, likes and dislikes, etc. so that recipients can make an informed choice. The HFEA has strict rules which state that donors should not profit from their donation.

Prospective recipients are also carefully screened to ensure that the woman is healthy and able to successfully undergo pregnancy. This process will also help determine the levels of hormones required to create optimum conditions for implantation. They too will be counselled to ensure they understand the consequences of the treatment.

Donated Eggs

In the case of egg donation, the cycle of the recipient will be synchronised with that of the donor, so that she’s at the right stage to receive the eggs quickly once they’ve been produced by the donor and fertilised in the lab using her partner’s sperm.

Donated sperm

Sperm is frozen on donation and kept in quarantine for six months before use as an extra precaution against infectious diseases.

In all other ways, the process is exactly the same as standard IVF treatment.

Legal considerations

When donor sperm or eggs are used, UK law states that the woman who gives birth is the legal mother of the child and her husband or partner is the legal father. The donor has no legal rights nor owes any obligations to the child.

Donations made through clinics will be subject to a standard contract that legally binds all parties to this agreement. However, if you intend to use a friend or relative, you’re advised to draw up your own contract with the help of a solicitor.

Recent changes in the law give donor offspring the right to access information about their genetic parent when they reach 18 years old.

The cost

Using donated eggs or sperm can be a highly expensive process, costing anything from £6,500 to £8,000. A shortage of donors can also mean a long wait – with the waiting list in the UK currently around two years.

Around forty UK clinics offer egg-sharing programmes to reduce the cost of IVF. Couples with healthy eggs donate some of them to compatible recipients, who in return, fund all or part of their treatment.

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