Sometimes, on a couple’s infertility journey, they will discover that they need to access donor sperm or donor eggs if they want to become pregnant.
Donor sperm is relatively easy to come by, because the nature of extracting it from a man is fairly straightforward and not particularly intrusive.
A woman’s eggs, on the other hand, are much harder to come by, and the process is particularly invasive.
How are eggs harvested?
The same process a woman undergoing IVF undertakes to have her eggs extracted is used by women who are donating their eggs to infertile couples.
The woman’s eggs are stimulated so they grow in larger than normal quantities. This is achieved through high doses of hormones delivered via a nasal spray as well as a series of injections.
When the eggs are ready, there is a medical procedure performed under and a needle is put inside the ovaries to harvest the eggs. It is usually carried out under general anaesthetic, although at some clinics, the procedure might be done using a local anaesthetic and some sedation.
Side effects can include high emotions (from the hormones), bloating and occasionally, women become unwell because of over-stimulation of her ovaries, or because of an infection in her pelvis.
Women who undergo all of this do so to give another couple a chance at having a baby, out of sheer generosity. In Australia, you cannot donate reproductive tissue for profit – it has to be for altruistic reasons. It’s against the law, under the Human Tissue Act 1982 to profit from the donation of eggs or sperm.
Payments covering routine expenses, however, are allowed.
Once the eggs are collected, the partner of the recipient provides semen to fertilise the eggs in a laboratory. They are then transferred to the patient and hopefully, she will become pregnant.
Who can donate?
Couples looking for donors usually start by canvassing family and friends first. Failing that they might place classified ads, join Facebook groups or other websites looking for an egg donor. If that doesn’t work, they might go overseas where they can purchase eggs legally.
Depending on the IVF service used, donors are generally aged between 21 and 38. Ideally, they will also have completed their own families.
Genetic and medical histories need to be given before you can donate, and there are many screening tests that also must be carried out. A consultation with a specialist will take place, and then counselling for both the donor and the recipient. This is important because there are many legal, genetic, social and moral issues that come up when donating reproductive tissues.
Can you donate eggs anonymously?
Donors and recipients can choose known or anonymous donation.
If you provide eggs through a fertility organisation that collects donor eggs, they will give the recipients non-identifying information about you and your characteristics.
However, the law says that a person who has been conceived through donor eggs or sperm has the right to know who their genetic parents are. They can request access to your identity once they have reached the age of 18.
An egg donor has no legal responsibilities or rights to any child conceived using their eggs. Under Australian law, the woman who gives birth is the legal mother and the recipient couple is financially and legally responsible for the child.
Things to consider if you are interested in donating eggs
Assuming you tick all the boxes and your genetic history and health are fine, there are some issues you might need to consider (that usually come up in counselling) to determine if donating eggs is really going to be right for you.
Things you should ask yourself include:
- Who will you tell about your egg donation?
- What will you tell them?
- If you have a partner, are they okay with it?
- How would you feel about the child contacting you when they are older?
- How would you feel if you donated your eggs and then were unable to have more children of your own in the future?
- How would you feel about your own children having genetic half siblings they do not know?
- What will you tell your own children, and when?