Egg Donation

Amongst the plethora of options available in terms of infertility treatments and assisted reproduction, donor conception is well known, albeit not as well understood as it could be. The practice of donor conception is based on using sex cells or embryos donated by another person to achieve pregnancy, more specifically the practice of egg donation involves a woman providing about 10-15 eggs to be used in IVF treatment (or for research in many cases).

What is done with donated eggs?

Donated eggs are usually used for two of the mainstay procedures when it comes to treating infertility. These are IVF (in vitro fertilisation) and ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection), both cutting edge technologies that help couples around the world who face difficulties conceiving their own children naturally. IVF is a procedure by which an egg, in this case a donated egg, is fertilised in a lab in a specialised container containing sperm cells either from the couple or from a donor as well.

The fertilised egg grows into an embryo, which is planted into a woman’s womb to grow and, hopefully, emerge 9 months later as a healthy baby. ICSI is a variation on this procedure which makes use of a single sperm cell directly inserted into the donated egg to fertilise it.

Should I use donated eggs?

Using someone else’s eggs is a big decision for anyone to make, and whether or not it is the right call is completely down to you. There is a lot of support through counselling and the like if you are having trouble making the decision yourself, and it’s important that you don’t feel pressured and are able to make your own decision on the subject. Your clinician might suggest the use of donor eggs under certain circumstances, but remember that the choice will always be yours.

Donor eggs are a good option if you have suffered damage to your ovaries, have had them removed, or don’t have any ovaries. Similarly if you have gone through menopause or are producing an inadequate number of good quality eggs, the donor option might be suggested to you. You may want to consider donor eggs if you suffer from a debilitating inherited condition that you don’t want to pass on to your child. Finally the option of donor eggs is also a good one for anyone who has been trying to get pregnant by a number of different means for many years, or has gone through repeated miscarriages.

What are my chances of a successful live birth through donor eggs?

Donor eggs are retrieved from women under the age of 35, and as these eggs are from a younger source there is a slightly higher chance of a successful IVF or ICSI cycle. The national average according to the HFEA is about 25-40% for IVF treatments. The slightly higher success rate can be quite attractive if you have been trying to get pregnant for a while, but for many people using another person’s genetic material is a major downside.

If you want to donate eggs yourself

Should you decide to donate your eggs you will be given tests for diseases which could be passed on to the baby, such as cystic fibrosis and syphilis, the doctor will also check your blood type. You are legally obliged to provide any information you have that may put the child at risk, meaning that the baby is born with a condition and it is proven that you were aware of the risk then the child’s parents have the right to take legal action against you.

You may also wish to donate your eggs for research (which will be fully licensed by the HFEA) or to train staff who will be performing IVF and other procedures in the future. A lot of extremely promising work has come from donor eggs given to labs for research, and protocols like IVF and ICSI wouldn’t have developed without access to donor materials.

Are there any risks to using donor eggs for treatment?

Risks involved in using donor eggs are minute if you choose a clinic that is well established and is registered with the HFEA. The HFEA are stringent in their monitoring and regulation of the clinics under their jurisdiction, so you can expect quality eggs from registered donors.

Under the HFEA egg donors are first assessed for their mental and physical suitability to the task, and their family histories are thoroughly checked to look for any signs of inherited illnesses which may be passed on to a child. Blood samples are taken from potential donors and screened for infections like hepatitis, HIV, syphilis, and the like, and a hormone profile is performed to make sure that enough good quality eggs can be obtained.

Because of these careful measures the eggs provided for treatment are healthy and suitable for fertility treatment, and if you have any further questions or concerns then your GP or fertility specialist will no doubt be more than willing to put them at ease.

Other considerations

Because a third party is involved in the birth of your child, there is a potential for legal complications where donor eggs are involved. As this is the case, HFEA licensed clinics make sure that the appropriate legal steps are taken to ensure that the donor can’t make a claim for the child further down the line. Under UK law if you are receiving treatment you are considered the mother of the child rather than the egg donor, and similarly your partner will be considered the father (provided he has given his consent).

There is room for an egg donor to decide that she doesn’t want her eggs to be used. However this is only until the embryo is to be transferred to the patient being treated, once this step is completed the law states that the child is fully and legally yours. However any stored embryos that haven’t been used in a treatment can be withdrawn by the donor.

The final point to be made on the subject concerns donor anonymity. While in the past a donor could remain completely anonymous if they wished to do so, the law now obliges information about the donor to be provided to a child once they get to the age of 18.

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