Since the first successful egg donation was performed in 1983, the practice has gained in popularity. In 2000, a donor egg or embryo was used in just over 10% of all ART treatments. However, the majority of women who use a donor egg or embryo tend to be over the age of 39; nearly 70% of women over the age of 46 use a donor egg or embryo in their fertility treatments.
Who Is A Candidate?
Originally used in women who had premature ovarian failure (POF), nowadays a wide variety of women decide to use a donor egg. These people include women who a carry a genetic disorder, have suffered multiple miscarriages or have premature menopause. Because the quality of a woman’s egg significantly begins to decrease after the age of 35, older women especially tend to take advantage of this technology. However, most clinics will not perform this procedure on women over the age of 55. Women whose partners have especially poor sperm quality may choose to use a donor embryo.
How Is It Done?
The procedure is basically that of in vitro fertilization (IVF). The main difference, though, is that the woman donating her eggs receives the fertility medication to stimulate her egg follicles. Simultaneously, the recipient takes estrogen and progesterone supplements to prepare her uterine lining for implantation. It is extremely important to time these processes correctly so that they are in sync with each other. This will help to ensure the best results.
Once the donor’s eggs have been harvested, they are then combined with your partner’s sperm or with donor sperm. After two to five days, the fertilized eggs are then transferred into your uterus. Because several eggs are retrieved, anywhere from one to four eggs may be placed in your uterus. Two weeks later, you will take a pregnancy test to see if the procedure was successful.
You will also need to keep taking your estrogen and progesterone supplements, even once you become pregnant. This is done to help ensure that the womb maintains the ideal conditions for a successful pregnancy. Once blood tests have shown that the placenta is able to support the pregnancy, you can discontinue the estrogen and progesterone treatments.
Finding A Donor
Finding just the right donor is a big job and is one that should not be rushed. There are different routes you can take find a donor. First, you and your partner should discuss whether or not you would like to use an anonymous donor or ask someone you know.
If you decide to go with a friend or family member, ideally she should be under the age of 35. She will need to undergo a thorough medical check which will include screening tests for diseases, infections, and genetic disorders. It is also a good idea to evaluate her ovarian reserves and make sure there are no fertility problems present.
When you use an anonymous donor, you are usually matched up through the fertility clinic where you are receiving treatment. The clinic will have already screened all potential donors but it is a good idea to ask about the criteria on which they assess their donors. Some clinics are more thorough than others. Recipients often choose their donors based on their ethnic background, physical characteristics and education level. Most donors in clinics tend to be between the ages of 21 and 29.
If you and your partner are looking for donor embryos, these can also be obtained anonymously through your fertility clinic. You can choose between separate egg and sperm donors or choose an embryo that a couple donated because they had extras after a treatment.
Regardless of which route you decide on, it is strongly recommended that both donors and recipients undergo psychological counseling. There are many emotional issues that can arise from this situation and it is necessary to deal with them. Many fertility clinics insist that their clients receive psychological counseling before continuing with the treatment. It is also necessary to get legal counseling on the issue, whether you are a donor or a recipient.
Success Rates With Egg Donation
Women who use egg or embryo donation in their IVF treatment are, at the very least, just as likely to get pregnant as women who do not use a donor, even in older women. At best, some studies have shown pregnancy rates to be even higher with egg donation than without it. Some have even put the live birth rate in egg donation pregnancies at as much as 41%.
However, since several embryos are transferred into the recipient, there is an increased chance of a multiple birth resulting. It is estimated that between 20% and 40% of the pregnancies resulting from egg donation and IVF are multiple births. While this is a joy to many couples, it is important to note there is an increased risk of pregnancy complications, especially in older women, with multiple births.
Depending on where you live, the prices for egg donation and IVF can vary. In the United States, you can expect to pay between $15,000 and $20,000 for this process. This price tag includes the cost of your IVF treatment as well as a fee paid to the egg donor. If you are also using a sperm donor, you may pay more.
Some countries, like Canada, have banned the selling of eggs, sperm and/or embryos. In these instances, it is necessary to find someone who is willing to donate their egg or sperm for altruistic purposes. Your fertility clinic should be able to tell you whether the selling of eggs, sperm, and/or embryos is allowed in your country.
Revision date: July 5, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD