Importing Sperm, Eggs, and Embryos

The practice of donating sperm, eggs, and embryos is fairly commonplace and well known, but you may be surprised to know that these materials can also be imported from abroad. There are many reasons to seek donor embryos, eggs, and sperm from other countries, but many considerations that need to be taken into account before going ahead with such practices.

Why are donated eggs, embryos, and sperm imported from abroad?

Here in the UK we have a serious shortage of eggs, sperm, and embryos which can lead to people seeking alternatives from overseas. One of the reasons why waiting lists for fertility treatments are so long is because donors are few in number, and the stores available for use are also small in number where compared to the need for donated materials. Some couples will choose to opt for important donations, however this can carry with it a number of complications and considerations that you need to consider before going through with your treatment.

What are the risks to using imported sperm, embryos, and eggs?

If you are fed up with waiting lists and decide to opt for imported materials for your fertility treatment, then there are a number of points to bear in mind. Firstly, while within the UK a government regulatory body, the HFEA, monitors clinics and licenses them to ensure a high standard of practice, clinics in other countries might not be regulated as rigorously and more often than not will abide by different standards and rules. If you are considering importing embryos, sperm, or eggs you should investigate the standards to which the clinic in question is operating, particularly as if the important materials don’t meet the HFEA’s own standards then they will be denied.

The practice of donations is different in the UK, with donors providing samples voluntarily and with written consent after a rigorous screening process which ensures that they fully understand the commitment they are undertaking and its potential consequences. Counselling is provided and all the legalities are ironed out to make sure that donor and recipient alike understand where they stand in terms of parenthood and their legal obligations. All this isn’t necessarily practiced in other countries, which means there is a lot of room for misunderstanding and potential complications further down the line. When considering clinics for import purposes you should look into how they recruit donors and how much information you will be provided about the donor.

Provided donated samples are used for treatments within licensed HFEA clinics, donors in the UK have no legal responsibilities towards children conceived using their sex cells. This is an important legal position made very clear to everyone involved here in the UK, the lady receiving treatment is considered the legal mother of the child. Other countries can have considerably more complicated laws regarding this topic, and so you will always be advised to consult a lawyer for advice on how to proceed.

How are sperm, embryos, and eggs imported?

As far as the procedure involved in importing these materials for fertility treatments are concerned, there are two different sets of policies, one for countries within the European Economic Area (EEA) and one for all other countries outside of the EEA. Regardless of where the imports are coming from, your clinic in the UK will need an import license which they are likely to charge you for.

How are eggs, embryos, and sperm imported from countries in the EEA?

Donations within the EEA need to meet specific criteria to establish their quality and suitability. The country from which the donations are being imported needs to operate under the EU Tissues and Cells Directive (EUTCD), which is a set of standards implemented across the EEA. The clinic from which you are importing needs to be licensed under the laws of the country, and it’s advisable that you look for local reviews and testimonials to determine its value and effectiveness.

The actual sperm, embryos, and eggs being donated need to meet the UK’s standards upon being screened for quality and health, at this stage the HFEA’s standards will need to be met by the donations. Furthermore the person donating the embryos, eggs, and sperm must be identifiable and must have provided consent for the use of their donations whilst being aware of UK laws with regards to identifying donors. Namely, that children born from donor sperm, eggs, or embryos are entitled to find out about the donors once they become 18 years of age.

The final condition which such imports must meet is that the donor involved must only have been reimbursed for expenses and not ‘paid’ as such for their donations. Whichever clinic you are using here in the UK must make sure that all these different standards are met prior to making an order.

How are sperm, eggs, and embryos from non-EEA countries imported?

Arranging for donations from outside of the EEA can be more complicated as regulations are much more variable and different outside of Europe. Typically your clinic will arrange matters for you and keep the HFEA informed. Your clinic, and more specifically your doctor, is responsible for making sure that specific criteria are met.

The clinic from which donations are being obtained must meet and abide by all the standards its host nation maintains. These standards will also need to be the equivalent of the EUTCD guidelines that are in effect across Europe. The donor involved must have provided consent for use in the UK, and must be aware of laws regarding how donors are identified in the UK. Finally as in the EEA, no extra payment on top of reimbursing the donor’s expenses should be provided.

If all these criteria are met then the HFEA considers the clinics application for the use of imported sperm, eggs, and embryos, and should render a decision anywhere between four and eight weeks after the application.

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