It can be hard to understand the different kinds of donor and what the implications might be of different choices. This is here to help.
UK clinics have varying supplies of egg, sperm and embryos: some have been successful at recruiting as many donors as they need, and others no longer recruit their own donors. They might buy their supplies of UK donor sperm from other centres or have arrangements to import sperm from abroad, or they might have links with a clinic abroad where you would go for part or all of the procedure. There are varying categories of donors, the main ones being as follows:
A known donor is someone whom you may have known for some time, or met with the intention of using as a donor. If you intend to self-inseminate with sperm it is important to familiarise yourself with the legalities, as the courts will generally give precedence to the child’s right to contact with both parents, and a known donor, unless the insemination has taken place on licensed premises, will have the status of parent if you are unmarried. In such circumstances it is advisable to draw up an agreement with your donor stating the intentions of both parties for the future. This will not necessarily be binding in any future court action but it will serve as a document of intent. If insemination or egg donation takes place in a clinic licensed by the HFEA such documents are unnecessary.
ID release donors are those whose identifying details will be released at a certain age to the offspring. This has been the law in the UK since April 2005, with 18 being the age at which the offspring have a right to the identifying information. It is important to note here that this information does not guarantee that the donors can be found, as they may have moved, maybe abroad, or even no longer be alive. There can’t be any guarantee that they will be available or willing to meet your child. Any egg or sperm imported to the UK must meet UK legal requirements, so the donors will also have agreed for their details to be released and their information will be included on the register kept by the HFEA.
These donors have been promised that the recipients and their offspring will never be given identifying information. This is no longer allowed in the UK, but is an option in the USA and the rule in many other countries.
This is where a family member donates their eggs or sperm. These arrangements can provide a happy compromise when everyone is well prepared and supported. If self-insemination is involved in family donation then the precautions above should be observed.
Some clinics will offer younger women the option of donating some of their eggs in exchange for reduced charges or free fertility treatment.
Donated embryos are usually embryos that have been frozen when too many were produced in one cycle of treatment. At a later date, the parents decide they will not be using them to increase their own family and donate them. In this situation, your child might later discover that they have full genetic siblings and donor parents in another family. In some overseas clinics embryos may be created from surplus eggs and sperm from a bank, rather than having been produced as a result of another woman’s treatment cycle.
This is the term used for egg donors who are not going through a cycle of treatment themselves. In the UK, eggs donors are compensated to the tune of £750, and sperm donors at £35 per donation. If you are going abroad, the providers of sperm or eggs may have been paid significant sums of money, which bears two risks: it may entice the donor to exaggerate their desirability (e.g. education and achievement) or minimise their flaws (e.g. family illness), or it may encourage vulnerable people to donate when they do not fully accept the implications of their action e.g. young women donating eggs without taking heed of the risks of the treatment.