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.