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Egg Donation: Can Anyone Do It?

By: Kathryn Senior PhD - Updated: 15 Feb 2011 | comments*Discuss
Egg Donation Egg Donor Cryopreservation

While donating sperm to a sperm bank to help childless couples or individual women to become parents is a relatively common event, donation of eggs is more unusual. This is partly because the process of donation is not as simple, and partly because the technology required to harvest, store and use the eggs requires much more medical intervention.

As techniques such as cryopreservation develop, and organisations become able to act as egg banks, egg donation is becoming much more possible and there is certainly a great demand. Unfortunately, the supply of donor eggs falls way short of that demand, leading to long waits for prospective parents. Some never gain access to the eggs they need. The rules about egg donation are different in different countries and in the UK, the procedure is very tightly regulated. While it is not true that any woman can donate her eggs, many more women are able to participate than probably consider it.

Who Needs Donated Eggs?

Some women are unable to produce their own eggs; conditions such as premature menopause, atrophy of the ovaries or cancer that is diagnosed and treated early in life can all prevent a woman becoming pregnant, and mean that IVF can only become an option if she uses someone else’s eggs. Around one in every two women under the age of 40 is affected by premature menopause, so this is not a rare problem. Other women whose ovaries function normally and produce eggs may be reluctant to use them because they themselves carry a genetic disease such as haemophilia or Huntington’s chorea that they do not want to pass on to their children.

Who Can Become An Egg Donor?

Generally, women aged between 18 and 35, who are in good general health and do not have any diagnosed genetic diseases are able to become egg donors. In the UK, you will not have access to any information about any child or children that is conceived using your eggs; you will not be financially responsible for the child and you will have no say in how they are raised. The law of the UK regards children conceived from egg donation in the same way as adopted children – at the age of 18, the child will become an adult and will be able to find the identity of the egg donor (if they were conceived before 2005).

What Does Egg Donation Involve?

A donor is counselled about the procedure itself – which involves several clinic appointments and hormone injections and then egg collection using fine needles that pass through the vaginal wall and into the ovaries, guided by ultrasound. Some women have no after effects of taking the hormones, or of having the eggs removed but about 1 in 20 women can experience ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome, which is usually mild and involves abdominal bloating and cramps. In very rare cases, the effect on the body can be more serious, and liver damage can occur.

In the UK, women are not paid for donating eggs. This differs from the USA, where the price paid to an egg donor averages around $4000 dollars per donation cycle. In the UK, expenses and loss of earnings due to the time spent having medical checks and procedures are paid back, but no payment on top of that is made.

Impact of Egg Donation on the Donor

Compared to sperm donation, egg donation means quite a big disruption to normal daily life. The process takes several weeks and involves abstaining from sex during some of those weeks. Becoming pregnant when overproducing eggs is a bad idea as multiple births could result. Most women find that doing the hormone injections themselves saves several visits to a clinic or GP surgery, and many of the injections are into the abdomen, so not difficult.

The egg collection process can be uncomfortable but is usually carried out under sedation but women need to take at least that day off work to recover from the effect of the sedative, and then to take things easy for the next few days to recover from any signs of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.

Although there is a considerable investment required in terms of time and emotional commitment, most women who do donate eggs are pleased that they did. It can be disappointing to learn that no pregnancy resulted. When a donor is told that they have helped a childless couple who have been desperate to start a family, to achieve a successful pregnancy, this can bring a great sense of achievement and satisfaction that makes the inconvenience well worthwhile.

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