Donor Eggs and Donor Conception

February 26, 2021Bríd Ní Dhonnabháin

There are lots of reasons people choose to conceive by a donor egg, also known as donor oocyte. If you’re thinking of going down this route it’s important to take the time to think about your options and whether donor conception is right for you. It’s a good idea to talk through your feelings with friends and family. Whether you’re going through your journey alone or with a partner, you might also decide to speak with a professional counsellor. Either way, Hertility is here to guide you through the basics.

Why do people need an egg donor?

Egg donation is proven to be a successful option for people unable to get pregnant using their own eggs. Donor eggs might be recommended to you if you have experienced premature ovarian failure or are otherwise unable to produce a mature egg. If you have a history of IVF failure linked to poor egg quality, donor eggs may also offer an alternative solution.  

Some opt for egg donation if they are at high risk of passing on an inherited disease like Huntington’s disease or a BRCA mutation, which is associated with a greater risk of developing some cancers. Same-sex couples may also choose a donor egg and surrogate to conceive and help grow their family.

Choosing a donor

The first step in choosing an egg donor is deciding if you want a known egg donor or not. You might prefer to use a friend or someone you know as an egg donor. If this is the case, your egg donor will need to go through ovarian stimulation and egg retrieval at the clinic you’ve chosen for your treatment.

It is more common for people to choose an unknown donor. Most clinics will have a list of donors you can choose from. Some clinics might have long waiting lists for donor eggs but you can shop around to find a clinic with shorter wait times if you’re keen to get started. Some clinics have special licences that allow them to offer the option of importing eggs from abroad.

Your clinic can’t provide you with identifying information about your donor. However, the profile available is extensive and transparent enough to allow you to make an informed judgement on your donor’s character and personality as well as including an accurate physical description.

The physical description will include height, weight, and eye and hair colour. Some clinics will provide childhood and even adult photos of your donor. Ethnicity, country of birth, and age at the time of donation will also be made available. An extensive personal and family medical history, the donors marital status and whether or not your donor had children at the time of donation is all recorded and provided to you.

To get an idea of your donor’s character and personality, most clinics will have a questionnaire and profile completed by your donor. This will include their interests, a brief personal history, and why they chose to become a donor. Some donors chose to write a goodwill message at the time of their donation to any potential children.

You won’t receive any information that could reveal the identity of your donor and they won’t receive any information about you or your child once they’re born.

Once you’ve chosen a donor, the egg fertilisation and embryo transfer procedures are the same as standard IVF treatment. You can learn more about that process here.

What are the laws on donor eggs?

The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HEFA) oversees assisted human reproduction in the UK. There are several laws in place to regulate licensed fertility clinics and donor conception.

It’s illegal in the UK to pay a donor for anything other than expenses. The donor’s expenses are usually covered by your overall treatment cost with the clinic but you can double-check this with your clinic if you’re unsure.

Donors have no legal rights or responsibilities to any children born with their eggs. That means if you conceive by donor egg, your donor will not appear on your child’s birth cert, they won’t have any rights over how your child is raised, and they’re not required to contribute financially to the upbringing of your child.

In the UK, egg donation is anonymous at the time of donation. This means the egg donor and you, the recipient, won’t know each other’s identity. However, when a donor-conceived person turns 18 they have a legal right to know their donor. This means that if you have a donor-conceived child, they can choose to learn identifying information about their donor once they turn 18. The donor does not however have legal rights, claims or responsibilities towards your child and will not be able to contact your child or your family. You can learn more about the rules around releasing donor information and identity from the HFEA.

Are there risks involved with donor conception?

There are few risks with egg donation.

If you choose a donor through a licenced UK clinic, they will be subject to a strict screening process. This involves background family health checks, screening for inheritable genetic disorders and testing to rule out infectious diseases like HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, and hepatitis. If you choose to use a known donor, they are still subject to the same checks at the clinic.

There is some evidence that people who conceive with donor eggs are at a higher risk of some pregnancy complications, including higher blood pressure, small gestational size, early delivery, and caesarean section (1).

What supports are available?

You won’t be the first person to choose a donor egg conception. In fact, there are plenty of support networks for people who have already been through or are just beginning their donor conception journey.

DefiningMum.com founder and donor mum, Beaky Kearns, started the Paths to Parenthub support network to help you from the beginning of your donor conception journey through to parenting your donor-conceived child. Members have access to regular interactive webinars and live chats from other parents and experts. Here, you can share your experience, find support and chat to other members for advice. Including how to choose your donor. The site is full of resources from webinar recordings, personal stories, tips and other recommended resources.

However you choose to start your family, Hertility is here to guide you through your journey.

(1) https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1471-0528.13910  

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