By egg donor we mean those women who willingly give their eggs away to another woman (recipient), so that the latter can get herself started with an infertility treatment that allows her have a child.
Egg donation may be indicated when a woman is known to be affected by or be the carrier of a significant genetic abnormality likely to be passed to her offspring. To donate their eggs, prospective donors must take a series of medications in order to trigger the production of multiple eggs.
A woman may choose to donate her oocytes to others for a number of reasons, including:
- A desire to help others have children
- Being economically compensated
- Donating for stem cell research to science
Egg donors have the right to be fully informed from beginning to end, as medical procedures with potential side-effects are involved. In short, they must be counseled about both the pros and the cons of egg cell donation.
The various sections of this article are assembled in the following table of contents.
Types of egg donor profiles
Egg donors are healthy and young women, usually aged between 21 and 34, who share a common goal: to provide their high-quality eggs to a recipient. Globally, donors can be anonymous (unknown) to the recipients, or conversely known or directed.
Although in most European countries egg donors should remain anonymous, in general intended parents can choose between the following three ways of obtaining donor oocytes:
- Known or directed donors: Directed donors are women whose identity is disclosed to the intended parent. This means you can become a donor for a friend, sister, or close relative (intrafamilial egg donation).
- Anonymous egg donors: In this case, the donor remains unknown to the recipient, which means that donors are recruited through an agency’s established egg donation program or egg donor bank.
- IVF programs: Although kind of limited, this type of donation involves a woman already undergoing IVF who agrees to donate some of her excess eggs to infertile patients. Women in this situation are often offered a financial discount on their own IVF cycle.
Intended parents who recruit a donor directly through advertisements should be cautious about it, as in these circumstances the donor has not been pre-screened and therefore has not been tested for infectious or genetic diseases, among other crucial aspects concerning their health.
Requirements and qualifications
All women willing to donate their eggs—both unknown and known—should be psychologically, genetically, and medically pre-screened. Thus, the evaluation of the egg donor comprises the steps that are mentioned hereinafter:
- Age of legal majority: All potential egg donors should have attained the age of legal majority (18 years old), and preferably be within the 21-34 age group.
- Personal and family medical history: Both known and anonymous egg donors must complete an extensive medical questionnaire, thanks to which they can show their personal and family medical history. In the case of anonymous donors, the motivation for donating their eggs will be assessed.
- Screening for risk factors: All potential egg donors are screened for risk factors for and clinical evidence of hereditary diseases and infections. A donor is ineligible if the presence of a risk factor is detected.
- Laboratory testing: All donors must be tested for infectious and viral diseases such as syphilis, HIV-1 and HIV-2, hepatitis B and C, Chlamydia trachomatis, neisseria gonorrhoeae, etc.
- Blood type: prospective donors should have documentation of both their blood type and Rhesus factor status, as well as a complete blood count, and rubella titer.
Genetic screenings are not a requirement everywhere. However, if done, they should be based on ethnicity and include testing d for the presence of cystic fibrosis (CF). Karyotyping is not compulsory either, but may be offered by some fertility clinics.
Procedure for egg retrieval
If the candidate passes all screening tests and proves to be eligible for egg donation, as well as mentally and physically prepared to get started, the process of egg retrieval begins, which involves basically three steps:
- Ovulation induction: The donor is given a combination of hormonal medications to trigger the production of multiple eggs within the ovary. Development of eggs is monitored by ultrasound along with measurement of hormones in blood.
- Ovum pick-up: Once mature, the eggs are harvested from the ovary around 34-36 hours after hCG administration. The process for egg retrieval is called transvaginal ultrasound aspiration or follicle puncture.
What are the risks of being an egg donor?
Although the appearance of side-effects is unlikely, egg donors must be fully informed about the potential risks this medical procedure involves.
Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) is one of the most common side effects of oocyte donation. It is related to the administration of hormonal medications for ovulation induction. Symptoms include sickness, nausea, physical discomfort, fever, etc.
Issues associated with surgery and the use of anesthesia are also rather common after egg donation.
Even though complications are unlikely, donors have the right to be fully informed prior to getting started with the process. You can find all the information here: Potential risks of egg donation.
Finally, egg donors should know that donating eggs does not affect your future fertility, as the oocytes donated belong to a group that would have degenerated if they would have been donated. In short, egg donation has no negative impact on the ovarian reserve of the donor.
Donors should provide written consent for participating in a donor program. In the case of known egg donation, both the egg donor and the intended parents are strongly advised to have separate legal counsel and sign a legal contract.
The legal contract between the prospective parents and the donor should define the financial obligations, as well as the rights, of the donor with respect to the gametes she is about to donate.
The economic compensation given to egg donors should be justified on ethical grounds, and structured as an acknowledgement of the time, discomfort, and inconveniences derived from screening, ovulation induction, and egg retrieval.
There exist two types of remuneration for egg donation:
- Monetary compensation: in recognition of the significant time, discomforts, and inconveniences associated with the process.
- Egg sharing IVF: the woman who donates her eggs will undergo IVF at a reduced cost.
High payments could create the possibility of indue inducement or even exploitation in the donation process. Many women may discount the risks associated with egg donation out of their eagerness to get a financial compensation.
Ethical issues of donor-egg IVF
An oocyte, egg or ovum is the female reproductive cell, which delivers half the genetic material of the baby-to-be who has been conceived through the union of the egg with a sperm cell. The process is known as fertilization.
Donating eggs means contributing your own DNA to another couple, which can create feeling of grief in some women. It is crucial for egg donors to understand what egg donation is all about as a way of avoiding feelings of regret and ethical dilemmas.
Women should consider both the pros and the cons before applying to become egg donors. Also, it should be clear that, despite they will share part of their DNA with the donor-egg baby, they have no rights or obligations over the child.
To become an egg donor, women have to understand that the genetic link is not the only aspect defining motherhood. Donors give little importance to the DNA and understand it goes beyond the basic concept of motherhood. They understand being a mother involves processes such as the upbringing of a child, education, loving someone, being a caretaker…
FAQs from users
Can I become a repetitive oocyte donor?
There is a need for limiting how many times a woman can donate her eggs in those countries where there is no limit yet. The chance that donor-conceived children they meet later in life raises health concerns about their potential offspring.
Many young women decide to sell their eggs as a means of supplementing their income thanks to the economic compensation they get. Donors should be aware, however, of the potential long-term risks and make choices accordingly.
The more times a given woman donates her eggs, the higher the chances of inadvertent consanguinity. If children are unaware of their genetic heritage, this may turn out to be a real problem in the future.
Does donating your eggs hurt? Is it safe?
The process for egg retrieval is carried out under mild anesthesia, which makes it a totally safe procedure. However, discomforts may arise as a side effect of ovulation induction. Bruises in the injection area, exhaustion or leg swelling are common symptoms.
Why become an egg donor? Is it worth it?
In recent decades, with the advent of birth control and family planning methods, more women choose to delay motherhood until their late 30s or even 40s. As a consequence, the demand for infertility services has increased.
So, of course it is worth it, as you are helping others create a family in spite of being unable with their own egg cells. Understanding that donating your eggs does not mean selling reproductive cells is crucial: egg donation is an altruistic process above all.
How does being an egg donor work? How easy is it?
If you meet all the requirements and have made the decision that you want to help others by donating your eggs, the first thing you should do is visiting a fertility clinic or egg bank and apply as a candidate. You will be medically and psychologically pre-screened and, if all tests are successful, the timeline will be established.