Sometimes couples are unable to conceive even with the help of medical intervention, and may need sperm, eggs or even embryos donated by other people to help them have a child. All of these procedures are highly emotive and you’ll need plenty of thought, counselling and support if you decide to go ahead.
Couples who have been through the IVF treatment sometimes donate un-frozen embryos to a childless couple, usually after they have had a successful outcome and want other couples to benefit too. The embryo is implanted in a women’s uterus and she will give birth to the child.
If the man has a low sperm count, is sterile or has undergone radiotherapy or chemotherapy treatment, a sperm donor can be used to conceive a child. Fresh semen is collected and stored by immersing it in liquid nitrogen. Up to 50 per cent of sperm don’t survive the thawing and freezing process, but the healthiest most robust sperm will survive the process. All semen is checked for infections such as HIV or hepatitis B, and can then be used for insemination in the woman.
The feelings of the man have to be taken into consideration here, as he will be bringing up a child conceived with a donor’s sperm and his partner’s egg, and can lead to feelings of inadequacy. The couple may also worry about what sort of man the donor was, and also whether their child will grow up and unknowingly meet a half sibling. The child may also want to meet their donor parent later in life.
Some women are unable to produce eggs, so an egg donor can be used during IVF treatment. The process involves removing eggs from a donor’s ovary, fertilising them In Vitro and implanting them back into the uterus of the woman who will mother the child. The procedure is quite complex as hormonal drugs have to be used to stimulate the donor’s egg production and the eggs have to be collected by surgical techniques. For this reason donor eggs are hard to come by especially since the laws on anonymity are changing. A ‘known’ donor like a friend or relative can donate eggs, or an unknown donor can donate.
There are contentious issues which surround egg donation, such as the woman carrying, giving birth and bringing up a child who was conceived with their partner’s sperm and a donor’s egg. The child may also want to trace his or her ‘donor’ parent later in life.
Who would embryo donation be best for?
- Women who have experienced a premature menopause
- Women who have problems releasing eggs from their ovaries
- Women who are born with no ovaries (Turners syndrome)
- Single women who are menopausal
- Men who have no sperm
- Women who have had radio or chemotherapy where their ovaries may have been damamaged
What are the anonymity rules?
Since 2005, the anonymity rights for people donating eggs and sperm have changed. Children conceived through donations made after 31 March 2005 will have the right, at age 18 to have the details about their genetic parent. Donations made prior to 1 April continue to fall under anonymity rules.
What kind of people donate their embryos?
Embryos are generally donated by couples who have been through the IVF treatment and who have had a successful outcome. They donate the embryos so that a childless couple can have a child. Most embryos are donated by a female under 35 and a male under 45.
What tests will the 'donars' undergo?
All donars will be tested for HIV, but also for chromosomal abnormalities, Cystic Fibrosis and Hepatitis B and C. Depending on the origin Sickle Cell or Thalassaemia screening may be required.
How are embryos 'matched' with prospective parents?
Most fertility clinics will try to match your physical characteristics with those of the embryo donars, including hair colour, eye colour, skin colour and build.
The legal side
Under the terms of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, the HFEA licenses and regulates centres that offer embryo donation. Any child born to a married woman following embryo donation will be legally the child of the husband unless he did not consent to his wife's treatment. For unmarried couples, any child born to a woman following embryo donation will be legally the child of the male partner treated together with her.