The 'Donating sperm and eggs: have your say' consultation closed on 8 April 2011. The information on this page is presented as it was during the consultation period and releates to the landscape of donation at the time.
See the consultation findings, and the current policies around sperm and egg donation in the UK:
Donation between family members – for example egg donation to a sister – is relatively common in the UK and is thought to be increasing.
Family donation includes many different types of donation relationships, some more common than others.
From what we know, donation between sisters, cousins and brothers are the most common donation relationship. But we have had reports of:
- mother to daughter (usually when the daughter is known from a young age to be infertile)
- daughter to mother
- niece to aunt
- father to son, son to father
Some people think donation between different generations heightens social and ethical concerns because they are a further step removed from the types of relationships that could occur ‘naturally’ – ie, without the aid of assisted reproductive technology.
"Donation between family members – for example egg donation to a sister – is relatively common in the UK and is thought to be increasing."
Receiving sperm or eggs from a family member is an attractive option for some as it:
- maintains a genetic link between the donor recipient and their subsequent child
- can avoid long waiting lists at the fertility clinic
- overcomes the uncertainty of using an unknown donor in treatment.
It can also raise additional ethical and social issues, such as:
- confusing genetic/social relationships for children (if a woman donates an egg to her sister, she will be the genetic mother and social aunt of any child born as a result)
- how to tell the child about their origins and managing non-traditional relationships throughout life
- the potential for pressure to be placed on donors by family members to give their eggs or sperm.
Potentially, there are two ways to conceive through family donation:
- Creating an embryo with eggs and sperm from family members who are genetically related
For example: Rita and Paul are first cousins. Rita’s husband Mike cannot produce his own sperm, so Paul offers to donate his sperm to Rita and Mike to help them have a baby. They use Paul’s sperm and Rita’s eggs in the treatment and Rita falls pregnant. Here, the sperm and eggs of male and female cousins (Rita and Paul) are used to create a baby.
- Creating an embryo with eggs and sperm from family members who are not genetically related
For example: Wil’s brother Bob cannot produce his own sperm. Wil donates sperm to Bob and his partner Helen. Bob and Helen use Wil’s sperm and Helen’s eggs to conceive. Here, the sperm and eggs of two genetically unrelated people (Wil and Helen) are being used to create a baby.
The mixing of sperm and eggs between genetically related people is more controversial than between genetically unrelated people. This is because it involves mixing family genes which creates a risk of disorders for the future child. The mixing of donated sperm and eggs between relatives is legal, although no mixing between close relatives (eg brother and sister or father and daughter) has known to have occurred.
We do not currently have specific rules on donation between family members. We don’t say who can donate to who or what special considerations clinics take into account when they are presented with requests for donation between family members. Instead, we issue general guidance on donation which covers the welfare of the future child, consent and counselling.
Clinics which see a lot of these types of donation requests have developed models of good practice. For example, some clinics require both donors and recipients to undergo counselling, both separately and together, before treatment commences. This ensures that both parties are comfortable with the arrangement and have fully thought through the potential consequences.
Some clinics have introduced ‘pooling schemes’. If a brother, for example, wishes to help his infertile sister, but cannot donate to her directly, he could donate to an unknown woman and, in exchange, his sister would be prioritised for sperm from an unknown donor.
There are a number of possible options for the regulation of family donation:
- We could ban the mixing of sperm and eggs between close relatives (those who would otherwise be banned from having sex with each other), or
- We could only ban the mixing of sperm and eggs between close genetic relatives (incest laws are broader than genetic relatives, for example it is illegal for an adoptive father and daughter to have sex together) as only the mixing of their sperm and eggs poses a medical risk to the future child.
Additional guidance to clinics
- We could issue best practice guidance to clinics, or
- We could ask clinics to have a strategy in place to handle cases of family donation; or
- We could instead encourage the counselling profession to issue best practice guidance to clinics.
Leave things as they are
- We could leave things as they are, as clinic staff have been dealing with family donation for several years with no reported problem and no mixing between close relatives (eg brother and sister or father and daughter) is known to have occurred.
Factsheet - key points and summary
This factsheet provides a summary of the ‘family donation’ section of the full consultation.
- Family donation factsheet (200 Kb)
Page last updated: 20 January 2011