The following information describes why egg donation is needed. It is expected to supplement but not replace further opportunities for you to discuss the implications and any other specific questions that you may have with a counsellor, nurse or a doctor. You should not feel under pressure when making up your mind and we hope that this information may help you to decide if donating eggs or accepting donated eggs is right for you.
Please bring this leaflet with you when you attend for your appointment in the centre. You may also find it helpful to underline/mark the areas which you would like to discuss further.
The first pregnancy following the use of donated sperm was reported in 1884 but it was not until 1983 that the first pregnancy following the use of a donated egg was reported. Sperm can easily be collected and frozen (cryo-preserved) for storage. Eggs, in contrast, are difficult to collect and, at present, cannot easily be frozen for storage and future use. With the advent of the technique of IVF, however, it is now possible for a woman to donate eggs (the egg donor) to another woman (the egg recipient). Only clinics that have been inspected and are licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) can set up an egg donation programme. Such a programme has existed in Leeds since in 1993. This leaflet contains some general information about egg donation and some specific information for egg recipients.
Why do some infertile couples need egg donation?
Some couples can only achieve pregnancy by using eggs donated by another (fertile) woman. They can be divided in 2 categories:
Women whose ovaries cannot produce eggs at all, or produce poor quality eggs
For a variety of reasons some women’s ovaries are not able to produce eggs. The most common causes are:
- Women born without ovaries or with under-developed ovaries (eg Turner’s syndrome).
- Women whose ovaries stopped working prematurely. Most women go through the menopause in their mid to late 40′s or early 50′s. After the menopause a woman is no longer capable of conceiving because her ovaries stop producing eggs and sex hormones. However, to some women these changes can occur much earlier, even in their teens or twenties before they would even have contemplated to try to get pregnant. This is known as premature ovarian failure or premature menopause.
- Women who have become sterile after surgery, radiotherapy or chemotherapy.
- Women undergoing infertility treatment but whose ovaries do not respond to traditional fertility drugs (such as Clomiphene tablets or FSH injections).
- Women undergoing infertility treatment but whose ovaries consistently produce poor quality eggs when stimulated (particularly more common in the older age group).
For these women, egg donation is their only realistic chance of achieving a pregnancy.
Women who are suffering from, or are carriers of certain genetic diseases
- Some women may be carriers of diseases such as Duchenne muscular dystrophy or haemophilia. These diseases can be passed on to their offspring. Rather than risk giving birth to a child who might suffer greatly and die at an early age, they may choose to avoid the possibility of having an affected child by using donor eggs from another woman who is not a carrier.
Who donates eggs?
Donors undergo the procedure voluntarily and for altruistic reasons. The HFEA provides guidance on financial reimbursements to the donor, which covers expenses for travel and loss of earnings (SEED REVIEW: details can be accessed from the ACU staff and the HFEA website).
Our donors are recruited from several sources.
Anonymous volunteer donors:
Women who are in a stable relationship, have already had children, preferably have completed their own family, and feel that they want to help infertile couples. Such women have come forward on their own initiative and have only altruistic motives. No financial incentives are involved.
Close relative of the patient:
- Some patients for ethnic, cultural or religious reasons and others as a personal preference choose to have a ‘known donor’ such as a sister or close friend of the female partner. Donation between known donors and recipients is acceptable after careful implication counselling. We adhere and remain within the law and its provisions at all times.
- Nationally there is a shortage of anonymous donors and some donors as well as recipients prefer anonymous donation because it makes the likelihood of emotional conflict in the family or between friends less likely. We can match another donor recruited by a different couple for your friend /relative whilst you donate anonymously to a different recipient. In this way treatment can be expedited for both your relative/friend and for others.
Some programmes have an egg-sharing scheme where screened and counselled infertility couples donate some of their eggs in return for subsidised treatment for themselves. We have not initiated this scheme because we have been concerned with the effect that loss of permanent anonymity between donors and children might have in time on the children, donor and recipient couples. However, such a scheme is operational in several other centres with HFEA’s permission.