Egg and Sperm donation
You’ve probably seen the articles in the newspapers and magazines about couples finally achieving their long-term dream of creating a family through donated eggs and sperm. You’ve almost certainly noticed the ads from couples pleading for help from a suitable egg or sperm donor so that they can try for a pregnancy. No doubt these advertisements and articles have touched you emotionally – maybe you’ve even thought about becoming a donor yourself – but what does it really mean to be a donor?
Why do people need a donor?
Donor eggs (oocytes) provide women who cannot use their own eggs, the opportunity to experience a pregnancy and bear a child. Egg donation may be necessary in women who do not produce their own eggs (e.g. due to premature menopause), those with a known genetic disorder which may be passed n to their own children, and those women who have had several failed IVF cycles when the problem can be attributed to their eggs
Donated sperm is required for couples unable to achieve a pregnancy due to male infertility. Male infertility has many causes including genetic, infectious and physical damage. In Queensland, single women and lesbian couples can also access donated semen.
Known donation vs. anonymous donation
Some individuals choose to use a relative or friend as a known donor, there are some advantages to this option for the recipient family – the genetic origin of the eggs/sperm is known and the waiting time for treatment can often be reduced. As there are relatively few potential anonymous donors, individuals and couples seeking eggs or sperm are encouraged to find their own donor.
There are also some women and men who altruistically provide eggs or sperm for individuals/couples they do not know. This is called anonymous donation, and in this case, the recipient does not know the donor and the donor’s identity remains unknown to the recipient. However, a donor does agree to their information being released to any resultant children (upon reaching adulthood). There is no financial gain for these donors as legislation in Australia prevents payment for eggs and sperm. These individuals voluntarily give their eggs and sperm for the wellbeing and happiness of others.
What does it mean to be a donor?
As a donor, you are entitled to know that your eggs or sperm have achieved a pregnancy and live birth, and to know the gender of the child (as well as any birth abnormalities). It is important to remember that there is no guarantee that any eggs or sperm collected will result in a in a pregnancy, even if you have previously had children.
It is important to remember that the recipients become the legal parents of any children born and have complete financial and legal responsibility for those children. The egg or sperm donor has no rights, and no responsibilities towards the child.
At a recent conference for infertility experts, the donors themselves had a chance to explain what donating had meant for them, and they offered some enlightening comments about donor experience. Some reported that being a donor was only “a very small contribution”, and one woman donating her eggs said she was “only giving one cell, the mother has to nurture and grow the baby”. Another woman said, “My eggs are no use to me anymore, they’re just wasted, but they are valuable to someone else”. These are fairly common and no doubt healthy attitudes for donors. However these are same women also explained that they were quite naive when they set out on the process to becoming donors, and had little knowledge of what would be required of them. Some donors explained that in the end, the experience as highly emotional, and they felt heavily involved in their recipient’s “rollercoaster of a loss”.
I am thinking about becoming a donor – what now?
The first step to becoming an egg or sperm donor is fitting within some strict eligibility criteria.
For women, you must be 35 years or younger, be fit and healthy, know your genetic family history, have no family history of genetic disorders, and not be part of a high-risk AIDS group.
For men, you must be between 25 and 45 years of age, be fit and healthy, know your genetic family history, have no family history of genetic disorders, and not be part of a high-risk AIDS group.
If you believe that you fulfil these criteria and are interested in finding out more about donation, the next step is to contact a fertility centre that has an egg/sperm donor program. You will be required to meet with a fertility specialist, a nurse and a counsellor, and undergo a range of blood tests (and semen analysis for men). If you decide after all of this, that becoming a donor is a good decision for you, you may be well on the way to having a starring role in someone’s happy story of pregnancy success.