Donor Embryos


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While many of us have heard of sperm and egg donations, it can come as a surprise to some that you can actually also donate embryos. An embryo is a baby at its very earliest stages, formed after an egg has been fertilised and remaining an embryo for about 8 weeks afterwards, it is little more than a cluster of unborn cells with no organs or discernable features. The donation of embryos is, by their very nature, more complex and controversial than the donation of sperm and eggs, but it does share one thing in common with these other practices, and that is it can help and has helped couples get pregnant.

Who uses donated embryos?

Your doctor might advise or recommend the use of donor embryos where a couple are unlikely to successfully get pregnant using their own sperm and eggs. This can obviously be quite difficult for a couple to get through, and having an option available can give them some hope in an alternative. If both members of a couple suffer from an inherited condition that they do not want to pass on to their child, then a donor embryo is a good choice as it is genetically independent from them. The final category of people who make use of donor embryos are single women who have gone through menopause, although in many countries this remains extremely controversial.

What are donated embryos used for?

While some donor embryos are used for research, many are used for embryo transfer, a procedure in which the donated embryo is implanted into a woman’s uterus to hopefully grow and make it to full term and a live birth. The embryo will have been frozen to preserve it, and as such is thawed before implantation according to a very successful protocol.

What are my chances of getting pregnant through a donor embryo?

Under the regulatory arm of the HFEA, donor embryos are made from the eggs of a woman under the age of 35 and the sperm of a man under the age of 45. Because of this the success rate of treatment cycles involving donated embryos are higher than the national average of conventional IVF. This is because of the age of the samples involved, age is possibly the most significant factor involved in fertility, and as the donors are young their embryos are more likely to be viable and successfully implant. The figures the HFEA provides are a 29.4% of a live birth from fresh embryos, and 21.1% from frozen embryos.

Things to consider when using donated embryos

Risks are kept to a minimum when donor embryos are obtained from HFEA licensed facilities as donors are thoroughly vetted by the clinic and screened for infections and hereditary disease.

Provided that you make use of a donor embryo through a licensed clinic any child conceived through a donated embryo is legally the recipient’s. UK law states that the woman receiving treatment is in fact the child’s mother, but remember that this is only properly enforced if you receive your care through a recognised institution. Provided the male partner involved provides his consent he is also deemed the father of the child in the eyes of the law.


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