Using family members, often siblings, as egg donors may occur in two different ways depending on the degree of kinship between the parties. Familial collaboration gives intended parents the chance to share some of their DNA with the resulting child. However, it may rise issues such as apparent incest or confused parentage.
Why receiving eggs from a family member?
Third-party or collaborative reproduction involves anonymous or unknown individuals, but there are times when the couple prefers to use family members as egg donors, sperm donors and/or both.
If oocyte donation is done intergenerationally, it is the mother who contributes an egg to her daughter, and vice versa. When the process takes place between siblings, cousins, nephews, sisters-in-law, or aunts of similar ages, it is done intragenerationally.
The emotional impact that needing donated eggs may have on the intended parents plus the use of an anonymous donor may turn their road to parenthood into a tough one, and this is the reason why some find it easier if their donor is a member of the family.
Motivations for intrafamilial egg donation
The most common reasons why individuals and couples turn to familial gamete donation are:
- To preserve the family’s genetic heritage and kinship
- To diminish the risk of genetic or sexually transmitted infections
- To speed the process
- To reduce costs
Often, the first aspect is the most common reason leading prospective parents to use a family member. Indeed, intrafamilial gamete donation ensures that some portion of the mother’s or father’s genes will be passed to offspring. In short, it is a way for them to feel genetically closer to the child.
Selecting a familial donor may translate into a reduction of the cost and waiting times. Since fertility treatments are expensive, and often not covered by insurance plans, the involvement of a family member may result in significant financial savings.
For instance, if a sister provides eggs for her older sister, she is unlikely to request payment while at the same time she helps avoiding the long waiting period anonymous egg donation implies.
Disadvantages of sibling egg donation
Using siblings for egg donation may raise a number of ethical concerns both on the side of the donor and on that of the intended parent. That is the reason why, for the use of familial donor eggs to be ethically acceptable, special care must be taken.
Firstly, it may lead to impermissible collaborations in some countries where there exists a legal framework against incestuous sexual relations and consanguineous marriages. For others, sexual relations, marriage, and reproduction between two closely related individuals are just a taboo.
Nevertheless, laws banning intercourse and marriage between certain groups of individuals would not ban donor conception or surrogacy involving siblings because actually no sexual relation or marriage would have occurred.
Similarly, a mother should not provide eggs for her son if his wife is infertile. Even though this situation is not an incestuous union, it gives the appearance to be so, and may lead to social issues within a particular society.
Using a sister for donor-egg IVF can lead to undue influence and therefore hinder a person’s capacity of autonomous decision-making. It should be borne in mind that, in some cases, the intended parents may exert some type of manipulative influence.
This undue influence may be greater with mother-to-daughter egg donation than when the sister-in-law is the donor. Some individuals may put great pressure on their siblings, and end up persuading them to be donors, thereby clouding their autonomous decision-making capacity.
Also, known donors often expect special recognition from the intended parents, but instead they may be filled with negative feelings if the outcome is a miscarriage or if the child has a genetic or birth defect. In these cases, the donor may blame herself, or even feel blamed by others.
A primary concern is the impact this arrangement may have on the donor-conceived child. Using a family member as a gamete donor can generate in the donor-conceived individual a profoundly altered view of the concept of family relationships.