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Using donated eggs, sperm or embryos in treatment

Every year, around 2,500 people have treatment with the help of a donor. In some cases they've always known they’ll need a donor to have a family. In others, finding out they need a donor can be a real shock. Find out more about using donated eggs, sperm or embryos in your treatment.

Is donor conception for me?

Using donated sperm, eggs or embryos is a major decision and you should take your time to think about whether it’s right for you. You may want to discuss your feelings with friends, family or a professional counsellor before going ahead. A clinic is likely to recommend donor conception if:

  • you’re not producing eggs or sperm of your own
  • your own sperm or eggs are unlikely to result in a pregnancy
  • you have a high risk of passing on an inherited disease
  • you’re in a same sex couple, or
  • you’re single.

Are there any risks from using donated sperm, eggs or embryos?

If you use a donor through a licensed UK fertility clinic there are very few risks. Your donor’s family history will be checked to make sure they don’t have any serious genetic diseases that could be passed onto any children you conceive.

They’ll also be checked for infections including HIV, hepatitis, syphilis and gonorrhoea. If you’re using a donation from someone you know, but are still having treatment at a clinic, they’ll go through all the same checks.

If you’re using donated sperm it is possible to impregnate yourself without using a clinic. If you do this and you don’t get the sperm tested obviously there’s a serious risk of diseases being passed onto your child, which is why we don’t recommend it. There may also be issues around who is recognised as the legal father.

Find out more about home insemination with donor sperm

Do you need to pay for a donor?

In the UK, it’s illegal to pay a donor anything other than expenses. This means that most donors donate for altruistic reasons rather than financial gain.

The expenses limit is £35 for sperm and embryo donors and £750 for egg donors (per donation or clinic visit.) Normally the donor’s expenses should be covered in your overall treatment cost but double check with your clinic.

How can I find a donor?

The safest option is to either find a donor from your clinic, or find your own donor/donation and use them in your treatment at the clinic. This ensures the donor will be given health checks and supported through the process with information and counselling, minimising the chance of something going wrong further down the line. 

  • Some clinics have a list of sperm, egg or embryo donors that you can choose from. Waiting lists can be long however, particularly if you’re after something specific – choose a clinic to view current donor waiting times.
  • If you’d like to use a friend or someone you know, you can have treatment with their donation at your clinic. Be aware there are restrictions on mixing sperm and eggs between close relatives – talk to your clinic for more info.
  • Use sperm, eggs or embryos from abroad. It’s possible for UK clinics to import sperm, eggs or embryos from abroad. However there are strict conditions that need to be met. You’ll need to find a licenced UK clinic who offers import/export services.
  • There are an increasing number of websites which offer services which match women with sperm donors. Donors and recipients may then meet and arrange insemination privately, without attending a clinic. If you are considering using these services it is important to bear in mind the very real risks and consequences of obtaining sperm in this way.

Find out more about home insemination with donor sperm

Does the donor have any rights to children conceived from their donation?

If you’re having treatment at a licensed fertility clinic in the UK, your donor will have no legal rights or responsibilities to any children born with their sperm, eggs or embryos. This means:

  • They will have no legal obligation to any children conceived from their donation.
  • They won’t be named on the birth certificate. 
  • They won’t have any rights over how the child will be brought up.
  • They won’t be required to support the child financially. 

If you don’t have treatment with a licensed clinic the situation is more complicated. There’s a risk that your donor will be considered a parent by law – with all the rights and responsibilities that brings. Talk to a solicitor to find out more about how this applies to you. 

What can I find out about a potential donor?

If you use a donor through your fertility clinic you’ll be able to find out:

  • a physical description (height, weight, eye and hair colour)
  • the year and country of birth
  • their ethnicity
  • whether they had any children at the time of donation, how many and their gender
  • their marital status
  • their medical history
  • a personal description and goodwill message to any potential children (if they chose to write one at the time of their donation).

You won’t be able to find out any information that might reveal who the donor is.

If I/we want two or more children born from the same donor(s), is that possible?

Yes, providing the sperm, eggs or embryos are available. You should talk to your clinic about the fact you may want to use the same donor in the future. Reserving sperm, eggs or embryos may incur a fee.

Are there any limits on how many families can use one donor?

Yes, in the UK a donor’s sperm may only be used to create up to ten families (this doesn’t include their own). This means your children may be partially genetically related to children in up to eleven other families. 

Other countries might not have the same limits, so if you use donated sperm, eggs or embryos from abroad your child may be genetically related to many more children.

Find out more having treatment abroad

What can my children find out about their donor or donor-related siblings?

It’s natural for some people who have been conceived with the help of a donor to want to know about their donor or siblings. They might want to see what characteristics they’ve inherited from their donor, or what similarities they share with their siblings.

When your child reaches 16, they’ll be able to find out the same information that you can find out about a potential donor at the time of the donation (see full list above).

When they’re 18 they can find out their donor’s name, date of birth and last known address and it’s up to them if they want to try and get in touch. They can also join our Donor Sibling Link and if any of their genetic siblings also join, they’ll be able to find out their contact details.

What is consent?

Consent is a vital legal aspect in using and providing donated sperm, eggs and embryos.

To help both patients and donors, we have created two leaflets that explain the concept and its importance.

Giving consent: A guide for patients and their partners

Giving consent: A guide for donors

What are the next steps?

Before you make a decision about using a donor you might want to explore the Donor Conception Network, which is a community of people who have used donors in their treatment. 

If you decide to go ahead you’ll probably want to start thinking about how you’d like to find a donor and which clinic you’d like to use. Your clinic should give you the option of talking to a counsellor to help you think through all the complex issues and ensure you’re completely comfortable with your decision. Once you’ve found a clinic they’ll discuss your treatment options, which could include intrauterine insemination (IUI) and in vitro fertilisation (IVF).

Choose a clinic

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Review date: 30 August 2019

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