In some cases, treatment using either sperm or eggs donated from another person may be required. In very rare instances, a couple may donate their embryos for another person’s use.
When are donor eggs used?
In cases of very poor egg quality, or if a woman has no eggs (e.g. because of premature menopause), eggs donated from another woman can be used. At present, there are no proven interventions for improving egg quality so donated eggs remain the only option for treating very poor egg quality. The awareness that poor egg quality is a problem typically occurs after previous failed IVF treatment cycles. The tell-tale sign of poor quality eggs during IVF treatment is poor embryo development; this is because embryo quality is very heavily dependent upon egg quality.
How are donor eggs obtained?
Obtaining eggs will require an IVF-type treatment cycle for stimulating the ovaries and retrieving eggs from the donor. These donated eggs are then fertilised using sperm from the recipient couple’s male partner to create embryos. The genetic makeup of the embryo is therefore a combination of the donor and the recipient male.
Egg donors are in very scarce supply in Australia. Egg donation in Australia has to be altruistic and it is illegal for a woman to “sell” her eggs. Altruistic egg donation refers to women who undergo ovarian stimulation and egg pickup without financial inducement, although they are entitled to reimbursement for reasonable expenses incurred during the process, such as travel costs. Because this is such an involved and time-consuming undertaking, and not without risk, altruistic egg donors are extremely rare.
In the USA, donors can be paid tens of thousands of dollars to donate eggs and there are large commercial “egg banks”. After collection, these eggs are often frozen and can be purchased by couples requiring eggs, including by overseas couples. Overseas eggs are available to purchase in Australia, for instance, from the US-based World Egg Bank.
Because of the scarcity of altruistic egg donors in Australia, one of the commonest arrangements is for women to use eggs from a known donor, for instance, a family member or a close friend. This can obviously raise some challenging ethical issues that would need to be fully explored by all parties involved prior to embarking on treatment.
When is donor sperm used?
Donor sperm is used if the male has no sperm, for instance, because the testes is not producing any sperm. See my section on Male Infertility and Sperm for more information on conditions that can affect sperm production.
Donor sperm may also be used when there has been repeated IVF failure due to poor sperm quality or when there is a risk that the male could pass on a genetic condition.
Donor sperm may also be used by single women and female same-sex couples.
Donor sperm from altruistic donors is available in Queensland. In most cases, donor sperm is obtained either locally from Australian men or imported from the USA.
What treatments are involved with donor sperm?
Donor sperm may be used to perform Artificial Insemination (or IUI) or in IVF. The particular treatment used depends on the quality of the sperm and whether other fertility problems co-exist in the recipient female. For more information on these treatments, see my sections on Artificial Insemination, IVF/ICSI Treatment and Male Infertility and Sperm.
What are the laws surrounding donor treatment?
Children born of donor treatment are legally the children of the parents who registered the birth. For example, the male partner of a couple who used donated sperm to conceive a child is the legal father despite his sperm not being used. Donors have no legal rights or obligations to any children born from use of their donated eggs or sperm. Guidelines specify that children conceived from donor sperm or eggs have the right to know the donor’s identity once they turn 18 years of age.