Egg donation is one of those topics that garners interest on social media occasionally, and warrants a warm fuzzy headline now and again, but good quality information and resources are lacking. There are restrictions on advertising for an egg donor, and whether you’re a donor or a recipient, finding the right information can be a matter of tenacity.
So, what is the deal with egg donation in Australia?
Firstly, it’s altruistic. Egg donors, like surrogates, cannot be paid for providing their eggs, but they must have their medical and out of pocket expenses covered. Unfortunately, there are no clear guidelines in Australia about what expenses must be covered, which means this can be different across Clinics and States. A better system, perhaps, is that which exists in the UK, where egg donors can claim up to £750 for expenses, regardless of where they donate or their particular circumstances.
Gone are the days when someone can donate sperm or eggs completely anonymously. We know better, and we do better. The child’s interests are now recognised as paramount, and we acknowledge that donor-conceived people have a right to know their genetic heritage and have access to information about their donors, and their genetic relatives. And whilst everyone is different, and every family is different, it’s the access to information, if they want it, which is important.
Donor-Conception, whether as a donor or recipient, is complex and should involve deep consideration for the consequences, and importantly for the rights and interests of any donor-conceived people that result. By law, they have a right to know of their donor-conception and have access to information about their donor. Research shows that donor-conceived people benefit from knowing their story from an early age, and having access to information, and the opportunity of a relationship with their donor may also be something they want.
How do egg donors and recipients meet?
In the case of egg donation, most Clinics do not have access to an egg bank, and there are less egg donors than there are recipients. Egg donation, unlike Clinic-recruited sperm donation, often involves recipients and donors meeting and getting to know each other before the donation occurs.
Donors and recipients often want to know the criteria required for a donor. There are no laws determining the age or requirements for donors. Many Clinics will have age limits, and may also stipulate that the donor must have had their own child. The fact remains, however, that many women are still donating in their late 30’s, and many donors have never had their own child. Remember, there are reasons for the age restrictions – an older donor is less likely to produce high numbers of eggs as a younger donor. But fertility is fickle and unpredictable, and a 37 year-old donor might provide excellent numbers and quality and a 25 year-old donor might have less success. You can expect that most Clinics will be reluctant to cycle with a donor in her 40’s.
You may also consider telling your story to friends and family. Many recipients like the idea of a genetic link between themselves and their donor, so asking sisters and cousins is a good option. Keep in mind, donation isn’t for everyone, and many women can’t fathom sharing their genetics beyond making a child with their partner.
What’s involved in being an Egg Donor?
Egg donation involves couselling for the donor, her partner, and the recipients. The counselling should cover everyone’s motivations and expectations in going ahead with the donor-arrangement, including expectations for future relationships and for the child’s relationship with the donor and their family.
Once the counselling is completed, the donor can commence an IVF cycle, with the intention that the eggs collected will be fertilised with sperm from the recipient (or a sperm donor) and used by the recipients to achieve a pregnancy, either themselves or through a surrogacy arrangement.
The donor details are kept by the Clinic, and in Victoria, reported to the regulator VARTA, and kept on the Central Register. The Register is private, but donors, their offspring, recipients and donor-conceived people can apply to access information on the Register if they are over 18. Applying for information generally involves counselling by a qualified counsellor.
Is the Donor Considered a Parent?
No, is the short answer. At birth, the presumption is that the birth mother is the legal parent, and if she has a partner, they are also the legal parent. Whilst the donor is genetically linked to the baby, genetics alone does not make a parent. The donor will have no parental rights or responsibilities, and whilst their information is recorded on the Birth Record, there is no parenting status that comes from that.
If you are an egg donor or recipient of donor eggs, there is no harm in obtaining legal advice about your rights and responsibilities. However, the Clinic process and counselling should address the consequences and legal aspects of donation. Many egg donor arrangements proceed successfully without any need for the parties to obtain legal advice. Some teams like having a written Memorandum or Agreement which outlines their expectations for the future relationship, such as what time the donor will spend with any children that result from the donation. Any written Agreement is unenforceable, but might be useful to make sure everyone is on the same page.
We do gamete donation much better than used to be done, with better regulations and laws protecting the interests and rights of donor-conceived people. For more resources about donation:
Sperm Donation and laws: Joe Donor and the Consequences of Online Conception
Donor Resources at the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA)
My reflections on egg donation: Seeing Yourself in Someone Else’s Child