Choosing to use donor eggs to have a child is a big decision. There’s a lot to think about from where to find a donor, to the medical process and not least the overall cost.
This route to parenthood can be an expensive business – and one that the NHS rarely pays for. Ninety per cent of donor cycles in the UK are funded privately.
But knowledge is power, so grab your notebooks and pens and let’s find out how to do this properly…
Failed Fertility Treatment
Couples using egg donation have often lived through several failed fertility treatments. Sometimes a would-be mother has been told that her egg quality is too poor for success. Then the best hope of getting pregnant is to work with an egg donor.
“Some women long for their own child and can’t contemplate using someone else’s gamete,” says Cheltenham fertility counsellor Jane Fizor who has long experience of working with people who struggle to conceive. “
“Some then choose to adopt or go for surrogacy. Some want the experience of being pregnant and giving birth.”
After costly rounds of treatment, no baby and a lot of disappointment – couples oftentimes just want something that works.
And it does work for many. Using an egg donor gives patients a 1-in-3 birth rate per embryo transferred. That’s for all age groups up to 50.
“It’s lovely when an IVF couple walks in with their baby,” says Fizor, “They’re so happy”.
How to have a baby with donor eggs in the UK?
Here you will find everything you need to know:
- How the egg donation works in the UK
- Egg donation costs in the UK
- Egg donation rules and regulations in the UK
Donor Conception in the UK is increasing
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.
And numbers are growing. The latest HFEA figures suggest it’s 20 times as many as 30 years ago. Age is one big reason.
Over the last 50 years the average age for a woman to have her first child has crept up. Sometimes a woman doesn’t feel ready to financially support and raise a child until a point in her life when her eggs are no longer fertile. For the first time ever half of women have yet to have children by their 30th birthday.
Please, nobody mention ticking body clocks or you might hear the sound of screaming…
Doctors may offer donor eggs as a solution. Effectively patients are re-setting their fertility age to the age of the donor. And the success rates for donor egg cycles are comparatively good.
It’s a 1-in-3 birth rate per embryo transferred across all age groups. Compare that to the HFEA figures for women over 43 using their own eggs: 1-in-20 live births. That’s a big difference.
Finding a Donor – where to get eggs?
Once you know you want to try donor eggs the next big step is finding a donor. Younger eggs generally have a greater chance of making healthy babies. So the age limit to donate is 18 to 35. Exceptions are sometimes made for known donors – such as a sister or friend.
All donors are screened. They have blood tests and genetic checks and must provide details of their family medical history.
Not everyone knows a willing egg donor, so egg banks have sprung up to meet the demand. They commonly offer a choice of frozen eggs from a batch. Nina Barnsley from the charity Donor Conception Network says: “Improvements in egg freezing technology now make it easier to match patients with donors by taking away the need to co-ordinate timings as is needed in a fresh cycle.”
In the UK it is illegal to pay egg donors. Eggs may only be given altruistically – purely for the good of another. Donors may receive expenses of £750 per cycle – which covers 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 not selling gametes was introduced in the 1980s but the modern world is testing the idea to its limits:
“There’s more challenge to the rules now because of the growing demand for eggs and sperm. The altruistic attitude matches where we sit on organ donation and surrogacy – but we have to acknowledge we are in a global fertility sector now where people can go overseas to get what they want.”Louisa Ghevaert
In a survey carried out for the charity Fertility Network UK 40 per cent of patients travelling abroad for fertility treatment said that better access to donors was a key reason for their decision. The overriding motivator was cost – 80 per cent said that was a factor.
The UK’s tight rules around egg donation mean that it can take longer to find a good match.
One way to keep costs down in a donor cycle is to go for an ‘egg sharing’ package. That means an IVF patient donates some of their own oocytes to get a discount on their treatment. It can make donor cycles more cost-effective – around £5,600.
However, there are some things to be aware of. This type of donor doesn’t always produce enough gametes in one cycle to be able to spare some. At that point, the donor may decide to keep all her eggs for her own use and simply pay the full price for treatment. That leaves recipients empty-handed and forced to start all over again.
Serious shortage of ethnic minority donors in the UK
One major issue in the UK is the shortage of ethnic minority donors.
Dr Edmond Edi-Osagie specialises in reproductive medicine and told the BBC “Any time I see an Afro-Caribbean woman over the age of 35 who walks through my clinic, the first thing I think about is, ‘Are they going to need donor eggs?’ My heart really sinks, because I know that it’s going to be a really difficult battle if they are.”
Understandably parents often do want a donor of the same ethnicity so their child feels part of the same family, community and culture. Sadly for some groups that is more difficult to find.
Asian patients make up around 14 per cent of IVF cases. 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.
Lawyer Louisa Ghevaert says the rules on altruistic donation push down the number of willing donors: “The practical realities are that donor egg shortages, ethnicity and cultural issues, as well as surrogacy, can be driving factors for people to access clinics overseas.”
How long to find a donor in the UK?
How long does it take to find an egg donor in the UK? Who knows.
You could walk into a fertility clinic with your long list of very specific requirements and Bam! The perfect person just signed up this morning. Or you could be sitting around waiting and hoping for a year or even two.
So much depends 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 – claim they have no wait time at all.
Some couples have a long list of requirements for their donor. But many people just want their child to look a bit like them. 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 little choice.
The more precise you want your match to be the harder it is to find that perfect person. The best advice is to compromise. Similar appearance, ethnicity, educational background, and even blood groups can be matched. Sit down and think about what really matters to you.
Known Donor Or Unknown Donor?
Since 2005 UK donors have had to provide their name, address, and other personal information. For the first time donor children turning 18 this year will have the legal right to access all of these details and find out the identity of their donor.
There are around 200 people who will qualify to contact their donor this year. Nobody knows how many will decide to actually do so.
UK donors provide personal information including:
- Date of birth
- NHS number
- Marital status
- Physical characteristics
- Personal description and number of children
Parents are allowed to see the information held, but not the name and address. That is only disclosed to the child at age 18.
All of this information is held securely by the industry regulator the HFEA. Families can then be confident the details will be safe until they are wanted. Strong data chains are vital as donor data becomes ever more important with the rise of gene therapy in modern medicine.
The number of children born from each donor is also tracked. So people know if they have brothers or sisters out there. And donors can write a message of goodwill which is kept for children to open and read once they are grown up.
Egg donation law changes in the UK
Something to think about is that the UK rules could change in the future. The HFEA is asking for views on how donor identity should be handled. Donors will still have to be identifiable – the main question is at what point should their name be revealed.
One option is that donors could choose to either make their details openly available to donor families from the start – or to wait until children turn 18. Another idea is that families could access all information from birth but with additional counselling support. It will take several years for consultations to be completed and for any change to the law to come into effect.
Decide what works best for you and your future family
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 abroad because they want access to more information on the donor. Some 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.
Donor counselling in the UK
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.
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.”
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.
Egg donors in the UK – requirements
Donors in the UK must be:
- Older than 18 and younger than 36. Age limits are sometimes stretched 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 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 minds 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.
How are egg donors qualified to donate eggs in the UK?The insight provided by Saghar Kasiri, Director of European Operations, Cryos International
To become an egg donor in the UK, you must meet certain requirements. Each egg bank has different requirements their donors must comply with. We recommend you to check your preferred egg bank to learn about the specific requirements of the bank chosen.
Egg donation UK – 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 fertilised or frozen and stored. 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.
Of course, there’s more to it than that – but that’s the bones of it.
How many eggs?
It’s worth bearing in mind that very often donor cycles produce more eggs than own egg IVF cycles. It makes sense when you think about it. Donors are chosen for their promising fertility. And they tend to be younger than egg recipients.
The good news is that when there are extra eggs you get more than one shot at a pregnancy. Some families even come back for a sibling from the same batch.
Egg survival rates after freezing (known as vitrification) vary from clinic to clinic – ask to see the stats. 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.
Bear 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). This can be several thousand pounds. Check exactly what you will need to pay for.
Egg donor UK prices
Do NOT be embarrassed to ask clinics about prices.
You’ll be telling your clinic the most intimate details of your private life – so this is no time to get squeamish about talking cash.
Costs vary depending on whether you are using fresh or frozen donor eggs and partner or donor sperm. One option is to use an egg bank and then choose your preferred clinic for treatment. Some patients say they have greater control over donor characteristics this way.
How to check the price of a donor cycle…
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.
Most packages do not include recipient medication in the price. The cost varies because drugs 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.
Sit down and read through what is included. Some clinics list donor cycles as a package. Others itemise each part of the process on their price list. Be clear what you are getting.
|IVF procedure in the UK||Cost in the UK|
|Donor matching costs + expenses up to £750||£500 – £950|
|Counselling sessions for donor and recipient||£85 – £130|
|Screening tests for donor and recipient||£790 – £1189|
|Semen analysis||£160 – £190 (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|
|Embryology – what’s included? Culturing to blastocyst stage, time-lapse imaging…||£625 – £800|
|Pre-implantation genetic testing if needed (known as PGT-A or PGS). *Check the HFEA website for more information on these techniques||£1350 – £3250|
|ICSI – sperm selection. Is this included? It often is for donor cycles but not always. It’s not always recommended.||£1250 – £1350|
|Freezing (vitrification) and storage of surplus embryos.||£250 – £375 for extra 1 year storage
£400 for vitrification
|Pregnancy scan||£150 – £240|
|Follow up consultation – if cycle fails||£165 – £225|
|HFEA registration fees||£85 standard fee|
|FET (frozen embryo transfer) for any further embryos excluding meds.||£1100 – £2600|
Is the egg donation in the UK expensive?
One of the main complaints that IVF patients have about private fertility treatment in the UK is the cost. If you are interested in getting know more about IVF costs in the UK – read our guide.
Academic researchers have found that the cost and the difficulty of finding donor gametes are barriers to accessing fertility treatment in the UK. People feel pushed to look overseas.
A DeMontfort University study found that the availability of donor eggs was a consideration in choosing where to get treatment, “… the choice of country was linked to the kind of treatment participants were seeking. For example, those who needed donor eggs were attracted to IVF clinics in Spain and the IVF clinics in the Czech Republic where donors are plentiful and waiting times relatively short.” However there also other popular destination – Greece and North Cyprus.
But is that any cheaper?
Egg donation UK cost vs. egg donation abroad
|Egg Donation Country||Egg Donation Cost|
|Egg donation UK||£5,600 – £18,250|
|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.
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 do Brits go abroad for IVF Treatment??
Egg donation UK – it’s your decision
There is so much to think about when thinking about using donor eggs to help start your family. The hard thing is that many people considering it have already experienced 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. That’s why counselling is such a great help in working through all the emotions and implications of your individual situation.
There 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 fertility sector is now global, so the options seem endless. Fresh oocytes or frozen? A known donor or a stranger? A clinic at home or 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 clinics abroad – as the is no best IVF clinic for everyone – as every patient is unique and different.
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.
- 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.