The decision to use donor eggs to conceive (egg donation) is rarely the first choice for couples struggling with infertility. Very often hopeful parents consider it only after going through the heartbreak of many failed fertility treatments. Or after a prospective mother is told that her egg quality is poor – because of her age or because of premature ovarian insufficiency.
Cheltenham fertility counsellor Jane Fizor who has long experience of working with people who struggle to conceive. “Some want the experience of being pregnant and giving birth.”
Then the best hope of carrying a child is to work with an egg donor.
Sometimes – costly rounds of treatment, no baby and a lot of disappointment – couples just want something that works. And it does work for many.
“It’s lovely when an IVF couple walks in with their baby” says Fizor, “They’re so happy”.
Around six per cent of IVF cycles in the UK are now linked to donor eggs. Not bad for something that was first tried out in 1983. Although in that first case the donor’s egg was fertilised with the dad’s sperm inside her body and then the resulting embryo was transferred to the womb of the hopeful mum-to-be. Don’t pull that face – technology has moved on a lot since those days!
Altruistic egg donors and the law in the UK
Okay – sooo… once you are going for an egg donor in the UK the law has a lot to say about it. This area is strictly regulated and the rules are designed to protect everyone involved; donor, recipient and child.
Have you heard the name Dame Mary Warnock? Shaking your head?
Well if you are looking at using donor eggs the British philosopher is about to have a huge impact on your life. Funny isn’t it, how people you’ve never met or even know their name can change everything for you.
It is illegal to pay egg donors in the UK. And that’s because of a committee on the impacts of IVF that Warnock led in 1984. She advised that human eggs should not be bought and sold. They should only be given altruistically – purely for the good of another.
Egg Donors Compensation in UK
Egg donors in the UK can only receive expenses. It’s currently £750 per cycle– and is solely intended to cover things like travel, hotels or childcare.
Louisa Ghevaert is an expert in legal matters relating to fertility, surrogacy and donor conception. She says that the principle of no commercialisation of gametes has stood up well until now.
It’s very different in somewhere like the US where oocytes can fetch between £3,000 and £15,000. Much bigger sums are paid to the most desired donors.
Known donor or unknown donor in the UK?
Once upon a time things were fairly simple. Donors were either anonymous or you chose someone you knew – maybe a sister or friend. Not so now. Since April 2005 UK donors are no longer anonymous. They must be legally identifiable to anyone conceived from their donations.
Parents of donor children can access any non-identifying information. And at age 18 donor-conceived people can access all the information held.
UK donors provide personal information including;
- Name, Date of birth, Address
- NHS number
- Marital status
- Physical characteristics
- Personal description and number of children
The total number of children born from their egg donations is also kept on file. So any resulting children can check if they have brothers or sisters out there. And egg donors in the UK can write a message of goodwill which is kept for children to read once they are grown up.
All of this information is held securely by the industry regulator in the UK – HFEA. That way there is a strong chain of control and families can be confident all the details will be kept safely until they are wanted. This donor data is likely to become even more important as medicine increasingly relies on genomic treatments – commonly known as gene therapy.
For some people knowing the identity of your donor is a dealbreaker. For others it doesn’t even feature in the question.
Some parents head for IVF abroad because they want access to more information on the donor. Some IVF clinics abroad offer extras such as a photograph of the donor as a child or even as an adult. Others are put off by non-anonymity and actively seek out countries where donors remain anonymous.
You may be interested in reading: Why on earth do the British go for IVF abroad?
Egg donation UK – recipient’s age
One big factor at play here is age. Over the last 50 years the average age for a woman to have her first child has crept up. For the first time ever half of women have yet to have children by their 30th birthday. And of course some will not want to. But sometimes by the time a woman feels the circumstances are right for her to have a child her eggs are no longer fertile enough to produce one.
It’s at this point that doctors may offer donor eggs IVF as a solution.
The success rates for egg donation in the UK is comparatively good. Figures from the industry regulator (HFEA) show that for older women donor eggs offer the same chance of having a baby as women under 35. That’s a 1-in-3 birth rate per embryo transferred. That’s not to be sniffed at when the figure is usually 1-in-20 for women over 43 using their own eggs.
There is no legal age limit on having IVF or egg donation in the UK – although many clinics won’t treat patients older than 50.
Age of egg donors in the UK
For egg donors the age limit is from 18 up to their 36th birthday. Exceptions are sometimes made for known donors – such as a family member who donates her eggs. But statistically younger eggs have a greater chance of making healthy babies. Them’s the breaks. Sorry.
Egg donation UK – counselling
Donor conception offers a modern-miracle route to parenthood – and the chance to be pregnant and carry your own baby. But to get there many first travel through sadness, confusion and the loss of ‘their’ genetic child.
The decision to work with a donor touches so many parts of us – identity, family relationships, the law, ethics, love. It’s the stuff of life itself. No wonder it can feel so…huge. In the end though, donors and parents align and share in creating a new little person. And that’s truly a beautiful thing. Ouf, welling up over here. Dab away those tears and let’s crack on…
These are big decisions. And UK egg donors and egg recipients must – by law – have counselling before any medical procedure is carried out.
Nina Barnsley is the director of the charity Donor Conception Network which works with families using donors. She advises that patients “grab” the counselling offered to explore their feelings. “Make sure you get support in thinking things through. Don’t rush it.”
Finding an egg donor in UK
If deciding to go for donor conception is a big decision – the next biggest is probably finding a donor. First thing to know; it really does depend on where you are and what type of donor you are looking for.
In some places there are long waiting lists. The UK rules on non-anonymity and altruistic donation and now the Covid pandemic all push down on the supply of donor eggs. Clinics frequently report waiting times of up to a year. Up to 2 years in parts of Scotland. But that’s definitely not true everywhere and some clinics – and especially egg banks – have no wait time at all.
Some couples have a long list of very specific requirements for their egg donor. But many prospective parents just want their child to look a bit like them.
The more characteristics you want to find the harder it is to find that perfect person. Think about what really matters to you and where you could compromise; similar appearance, shared ethnicity, educational background, even blood groups can be matched. Clinics vary in how closely they match donors and recipients. Certainly where patients are doing an ‘egg sharing cycle’ with another IVF patient there tends to be less choice.
Lawyer Louisa Ghevaert says the rules on altruistic donation push down the number of willing donors:
Understandably parents often do want a donor of the same ethnicity so their child feels part of their family, community and culture. But some groups find that more difficult.
For example, 14 per cent of IVF patients were Asian -but Asian donors make up just 4 per cent of all eggs given. That’s a big gap to fill. In more than half of cases patients from ethnic groups end up using eggs from white donors.
Egg Donor Banks in the UK
Certainly there are more people than ever looking for donated eggs. The latest HFEA figures suggest its 20-times as many people as it was 30 years ago. Egg donor banks have sprung up to meet the demand. The UK’s very first one opened at a London clinic in 2005. They commonly offer a choice of frozen eggs from a batch.
Nina Barnsley from DC Network says:
The flash freezing technique (vitrification) now used can have an egg survival rate of up to 80 per cent. That varies from clinic to clinic – so do ask for the stats yourself. If you get a batch of 10 eggs how many are likely to survive the thawing process? It’s worth making the calculation before you commit.
It has allowed egg banks and clinics to more easily use donors from abroad. Which has helped increase the supply. Donors can provide gametes to create up to ten families, but there is no limit on the number of children conceived for each family. That does mean that patients can sometimes come back for siblings.
Waiting time to find an egg donor in the UK
So – how long does it take to find an egg donor in the UK? Who knows?
You could walk into the UK fertility clinic with your long list of very specific requirements and Bam! The perfect person just signed up this morning. Or you could be waiting for a year or more. The answer is that you won’t know until you try.
Egg donors in the UK – requirements
UK egg donors must be:
- Older than 18 and younger than 36. Exceptions are sometimes made for known donors.
- Able to provide a full medical history – so there’s no chance of a hereditary genetic disease being passed on.
- Fit and healthy, a healthy weight and a non-smoker.
- Fully screened – clinics do thorough blood tests as well as chromosomal and genetic testing.
- Willing to go to compulsory counselling to talk through the risks and the possibility of having a genetic child out there in the world.
- Committed – they need to be fully on board to give up their time for all the medical meetings and procedures and to diligently take all the drugs and injections needed.
- Able to accept they are not legally parents – they do not have any legal rights or obligations towards the child.
- Willing to sign paperwork to give ‘informed consent’ for the use of their gametes. Donors can change their mind right up to the moment an embryo is transferred.
- Able to write a message of goodwill which is kept for adult offspring to read. This and the personal description help give a sense of who the donor is as a person.
Egg donation process in the UK
What’s involved in an egg donor cycle medically speaking?
Many people opting for donor conception are already IVF veterans and have first-hand experience of many rounds of fertility treatment. Just in case you don’t – here’s how it works… Broadly speaking the medical procedure for a donor cycle is one cycle of IVF split across two women.
The donor takes fertility drugs and undergoes scans and egg collection. The eggs are checked for suitability and either frozen and stored or fertilised. Then everyone waits and hopes for healthy embryos to form. Once an embryo is ready – ideally at the blastocyst stage (100 – 150 cells) – it is transferred to the intended parent.
The mother-to-be must take hormone therapy as gel, patches or injections to regulate her menstrual cycle. That way her womb is in the right state at the right moment to receive the embryo and hopefully form a successful pregnancy.
Of course, there’s more to it than that – starting with stringent screening of the donor, blood tests, full family medical history and an ultrasound to check egg quality.
How many eggs?
It’s worth bearing in mind that very often fresh donor cycles produce more eggs than own egg IVF cycles. It makes sense when you think about, right? These women are examined and chosen for their promising fertility. And they tend to be younger than egg recipients.
What it does mean is that recipients can get more than one shot at a pregnancy – sometimes even coming back for a sibling from the same batch. It’s worth bearing in mind that clinics tend to charge separately for storing any extra embryos beyond a year and for each treatment to transfer a frozen embryo (FET). Check exactly what you will need to pay for.
Egg donation cost in the UK
Look, you’ll be telling your clinic the most intimate details of your private life – so this is no time to get icky about talking cash. However much it makes you squirm. Do NOT be embarrassed to ask clinics about prices.
Here’s how to check prices of egg donation cycle in the UK…
UK IVF clinics advertise their prices in different ways. Some offer a package while others list the cost of each individual treatment.
Treatment costs vary depending on whether you are using fresh or frozen donor eggs and partner or donor sperm. And you can also find a donor yourself through an egg bank and choose your preferred clinic for treatment. Some patients say they have greater control over donor characteristics this way.
In the UK packages for a fresh cycle using an egg donor start at around £9,000. For a frozen egg cycle you are looking at £7,000 upwards. London clinics can be more expensive – costing around 10 to 15 per cent more.
How much is egg donation in UK? Well, IVF with donor egg in the UK may cost between £7,000 to £12,000 including all basic IVF procedures, donor compensation and costs and all tests and scans.
It’s worth knowing most packages do not generally include the recipient’s medication needed before and after the embryo transfer. The cost of drugs will vary because they are specifically tailored to the individual. Ask to know the top end of what you might have to pay. That way you avoid unwelcome surprises.
Egg sharing in the UK – saving costs on egg donation cycle
Some clinics offer an ‘egg sharing package’ to patients who are willing to donate some of their own oocytes and want to make their IVF cheaper. This can make shared donor cycles more cost effective – around £5,600.
Sharing donors are screened to rule out problems with egg quality. But they do not always produce a large enough number of gametes in one cycle to be able to support another woman’s treatment. At that point the donor can decide to pay the full price for her treatment and keep all her eggs for her own use. Having been matched with someone you may find yourself left with nothing.
Quite often you will see a really great deal on donor egg cycles – but when you look more closely the £5,500 headline price is only for people using a family member or friend as a donor – known donor. So it doesn’t include the cost of finding a match and paying out-of-pocket expenses. That could easily add another £1,000 upwards.
Egg donation cost in the UK – check what’s included
Check what is covered in the sticker price of an advertised package. Study itemised price lists to work out likely costs.
You need to look for these items…
|Donor matching costs + expenses up to £750||£650 up to £4950 for 6 frozen eggs covering cost of collection and freezing|
|Counselling sessions for donor and recipient||£60 – £140|
|Screening tests for donor and recipient||£500 – £1189|
(often included in screening test package)
|Guarantee of how many eggs you will get? What happens if this is not met?||Check for refund policy at clinic|
|IVF cycle – monitoring scans, egg collection, embryology, egg transfer||£3,350 – £4,200|
|Embryology – what’s included? Culturing to blastocyst stage, time-lapse imaging etc.||£600 – £750|
|Pre-implantation genetic testing if needed (known as PGT-A or PGS). *Check the HFEA website for more information on these techniques||£350 – £520 per embryo|
|ICSI – sperm selection. Is this included? It often is for donor cycles but not always.||£1000 – £1300|
|Freezing (vitrification) and storage of surplus embryos. (How long for?)||£250 – £350 for 1 year storage
400 for vitrification
|Pregnancy scan||ask the clinic|
|Follow up consultation – if cycle fails||£150 – £175|
|HFEA registration fees||£80 standard fee|
|FET (frozen embryo transfer) for any further embryos||£400 – £2450|
Is the donor egg treatment expensive in the UK?
One of the main complaints that IVF patients have about private fertility treatment in the UK is the cost. That’s an even more painful problem for patients who have paid for repeated treatments without ever having a child. And that’s often the situation for those considering a donor cycle.
Research led by De Montfort University in 2011 found that two of the major reasons for seeking fertility treatment abroad were IVF cost in UK and the difficulty of finding an egg donor at the time they were needed. Those factors combine to exclude some patients from accessing IVF treatment at home and push them to look overseas. But is it worth making that choice? Here’s how the costs of egg donation in the UK compare:
|Egg Donation Country||Egg Donation Cost|
|Egg donation UK||£5,600 – £18,550|
|Egg Donation in Spain||£4,900 – £7,100|
|Egg donation in Czech Republic||£3,600 – £4,600|
|Egg donation in North Cyprus||£3,800 – £4,200|
|Egg donation in Greece||£3,500 – 5,000|
|Egg donation in Ukraine||£3,800 – £4,600|
|Egg donation in Russia||£3,300 – £4,100|
|Egg donation in Latvia||£5,000 – £6,000|
*If travelling abroad remember to add in the cost of travel, accommodation and time off work. You will also need appropriate medical insurance when travelling to another country for fertility treatment.
The other way people look to reduce costs is by opting for an egg sharing cycle. Some women having IVF choose to sha
Egg donation – it’s your decision
There is so much to think about when thinking about using donor eggs to help start your family in the UK. And the hard thing is that many people considering it have already had the blow of not being able to get pregnant even with medical help. It’s tough to make these life-changing decisions when you are already hurt by failed IVF.
And that’s why counselling is such a great help in working through all the emotions and implications of your individual situation.
There really is so much to think about- starting with your feelings about not having your own genetic child and ending with the DNA of your grandchildren. Oh – and taking in your personal finances, medical conditions and family situation along the way. It’s a lot, right?
Take your time and think it through
For some the right choice is to go for donor eggs. But the decisions don’t stop there. The now global fertility sector makes the options seem endless. Fresh oocytes or frozen? A known donor or a stranger?
An IVF clinic at home or IVF abroad?
Fertility professionals all advise taking the time to think through the implications of your decisions – for you and your future family. Take time to find out about the treatment options too and really research the cost. Becoming the parent of a donor-conceived child can be a long and twisting road. Being confident you are taking the right first steps will help you all along the way. It’s a difficult process to find the best IVF clinic abroad – as the is no best IVF clinic for everyone – as every patient is unique and different.
- Do your research – there’s a lot to know about accepting donor eggs – and lots of organisation that can help. Use them.
- Decide what matters most to you – Donor information, family characteristics, wait times for treatment, experiencing pregnancy? Knowing your top priorities will help you find a clear route through a complex process.
- Keep your future child in mind – decisions you make now will affect them too!
- Take time to consider which type of donor you prefer – someone you already know, anonymous, non-anonymous. Each has different implications for you and your future child.
- Talk to a counsellor – These are big decisions. It’s vital to talk to someone who can help you work through your thoughts and feelings – as well as providing up-to-date information.
- Do the maths – There can be many variables in egg donor treatment so find out exactly what you are paying for and the likely final sum.
- Be confident in your choices – Think everything through carefully, then move forward knowing you made the best decision you could with the information you had.