Egg and Sperm Donation: what does it involve and what are the regulations?
This article has been contributed by Sareena Sharma, Embryologist at specialist fertility clinic, IVF London.
Egg and sperm donation can be a good option when gametes from one or both partners cannot be used for fertility treatment. However, the prospect of using an egg or a sperm donor can be daunting. In this blog post, we answer some questions you may have and hope to offer reassurance about the process.
Types of gamete donation
There are two types of gamete donation: egg and sperm.
- Sperm donation: is used for cases of male infertility (for example a very low sperm count). Additionally, when there is a high risk of the father passing on a genetic condition to his offspring.
- Egg donation: is used in female infertility. Cases where a woman cannot produce eggs or when her eggs are of very low quality. Advanced maternal age, low ovarian function, premature menopause and previous cancer treatments can all cause the ovaries to produce lower quality eggs or stop producing eggs altogether.
Gamete donations are also used by same-sex couples and single individuals who wish to start a family.
How does the process of using an egg donor or sperm donor work?
If you have decided to go ahead with donation, the next step is to have a discussion with a fertility counsellor. The counsellor will help you to better understand the emotional, mental and legal aspects of using a donor.
Next, you will need to select your donor. This is usually done at your fertility clinic with an embryologist. This is when you will decide on what kind of donor you would like. You can choose donor characteristics such as eye and hair colour, ethnic background, education, occupation and lifestyle habits. Once a donor is chosen, the gametes are sent to the clinic and treatment can begin.
Treatment with donor sperm
If you are using donor sperm, the option of intrauterine insemination (IUI) will be discussed. For this, your fallopian tubes must first be tested to check for any blockages. If no blockages can be found, then the donor sperm will be prepared and transferred into the uterus. The transfer will be calculated in time with the natural release of your egg to optimise the chance of a pregnancy.
However, if blockages are found in your tubes then your treatment cycle will begin as a standard IVF cycle: you will start using medication to stimulate your ovaries to produce multiple eggs. Once these eggs are collected, they are fertilised with the donor sperm which has been thawed and prepared. The resultant embryos are then cultured by the embryologist for 3-6 days and transferred when they are ready.
Treatment with donor eggs
If you are using donor eggs, these will be received by the clinic frozen and stored in liquid nitrogen. The male partner will produce a semen sample and this will be prepared for treatment. The frozen donor eggs will be thawed and fertilised using the prepared sperm. Any embryos created are allowed to grow for 3-6 days and then transferred into your womb. You will start taking oestrogen tablets two weeks previously, to ensure your womb lining is thick enough.
Regulations on using donor gametes
It is a requirement that all donors in the UK undertake a series of health tests/screening, including tests for HIV and hepatitis. This is to ensure that they do not pass on any serious diseases or medical conditions to you or your baby. They also undergo thorough mental health assessment to make sure they understand the implications of donating.
A gamete donor is allowed to create a maximum of ten families in the UK. Once you have a live birth, the donor has created one ‘family’. Any future pregnancies using the same donor would be counted as a single-family slot. There is a small risk that the donor you may have selected would have achieved the ten family limit by the time you have your treatment. If this happens, you may be asked to select another donor.
In the UK, a donation in exchange for payment is prohibited by law. To cover any expenses incurred during the process, sperm donors are given £35 per clinic visit and egg donors up to £750 per donation ‘cycle’. They may also have the right to claim higher expenses including accommodation, travel or childcare
It is the law that the woman receiving treatment, and her partner being treated with her, will be the legal parents of any child born as a result of donated gametes. Although the donor will be the genetic parent of any child born, they will have no legal relationship. Neither will they have any legal rights over or obligation to any child born. In the same way, any child born will have no legal relationship to, nor rights over and no obligation to any donor.
In the UK, a donation in exchange for payment is prohibited by law. To cover any expenses incurred during the process, sperm donors are given £35 per clinic visit. Egg donors receive up to £750 per donation ‘cycle’. They may also have the right to claim higher expenses including accommodation, travel or childcare.
It is the law that the donors identifying details must be provided to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to be maintained on its confidential register. This also applies to donors who are from overseas. In April 2005, a new law came into force to remove anonymity from sperm, egg and embryo donors. This means that children conceived after this date as a result of such donation may if they so desire, contact the HFEA when they are 18 years of age or older to receive identifying information about the donor.
Author: Sareena Sharma
Editor: Vicki Anderson