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How to Select Donor Sperm, Eggs and Embryos

Talking to the doctor about donor sperm, eggs and embryos

Reproductive medicine enables family building for many individuals and couples confronting fertility challenges. Advancements in medicine have made using sperm, eggs and embryos from others who have chosen to donate them a promising option for those aiming to begin or grow their families. Technically, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has labeled donated sperm, eggs and embryos as “tissue”.

Medically assisted reproduction (MAR) describes reproduction brought about through various interventions, procedures, surgeries and technologies to treat different forms of fertility impairment and infertility. These include ovulation induction, ovarian stimulation, ovulation triggering, all assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures, uterine transplantation and intrauterine, intracervical and intravaginal insemination with semen of husband/partner or donor.

ART interventions include the in vitro handling of both human oocytes and sperm or of embryos for the purpose of reproduction. This includes but is not limited to, IVF and embryo transfer ET, intracytoplasmic sperm injection ICSI, embryo biopsy, preimplantation genetic testing PGT, assisted hatching, gamete intrafallopian transfer GIFT, zygote intrafallopian transfer, gamete and embryo cryopreservation, semen, oocyte and embryo donation, and gestational carrier cycles. Thus, ART does not, and ART-only registries do not, include assisted insemination using sperm from either a woman’s partner or a sperm donor. 

Both ART and MAR have become more common in recent years. Several factors have contributed to this increase, such as improved ART technology, changing societal norms, delayed family planning, and a growing awareness of available fertility treatments.

Assisted reproduction technology (ART) accounts for 2.3% of all infants born in the United States annually. The use of donor tissue has emerged as a transformative option, offering hope to those facing infertility issues or genetic disorders. Donor tissue can bridge the gap and present a path to parenthood when conventional conception methods either won’t work or have a very low chance of working.

Understanding the Different Types of Donor Tissue

These distinct types of donors play crucial roles in helping individuals and couples:

  1. Egg donors offer a viable solution for women with diminished ovarian reserve or those unable to produce viable eggs. The donated eggs are fertilized through IVF (in vitro fertilization) or ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection) and transferred to the recipient’s uterus.
  2. Embryo donors provide an alternative for individuals or couples facing both male and female infertility issues, with cryopreserved embryos from successful IVF treatments being donated and transferred to the recipient’s uterus.
  3. Sperm donors serve as a valuable resource for single women, same-sex couples, or heterosexual couples dealing with diminished sperm quality, with rigorously screened sperm used for insemination or IVF procedures to achieve fertilization.

Pros and Cons of Using Donor Tissues

Donor tissue opens possibilities for parenthood for individuals and couples who may not have had viable alternatives otherwise.The decision to use donor tissue can evoke complex emotions, including feelings of loss, identity concerns, and the need for disclosure within the family.
Donor tissue can enable one or both recipient(s) to participate biologically in their family formation.Some individuals may grapple with ethical dilemmas related to donor anonymity, the commodification of genetic material, and informed consent.
This approach offers a healthier start for the child by mitigating the risk of passing on inheritable genetic disorders.Using donor tissue is subject to varying legal and regulatory frameworks, which can be confusing and challenging.
Donor tissue is often associated with higher success rates in assisted reproduction procedures, improving chances of conception and successful pregnancies.Procedures can be expensive, and the financial burden may deter some individuals or couples from pursuing this option.


Identifying Needs and Goals

Assisted reproduction with donor tissue necessitates a clear understanding of the individual or couple-specific reproductive goals. Taking the time to reflect and communicate openly with a partner or partners (if applicable) is essential in ensuring the chosen path aligns with long-term aspirations for building a family.

Considerations for Those with Fertility Challenges

While selecting donor tissue, it is important to consider specific fertility issues or congenital conditions. Opting for donor tissue with suitable genetic traits can minimize the risk of passing on heritable disorders, ensuring a healthier start for the child. 

For couples with a history of genetic disorders, genetic testing of donors and embryos can be essential in making well-informed choices. Throughout this process, seeking guidance from qualified medical professionals, genetic counselors, and mental health specialists can prove instrumental in navigating the emotional complexities and making decisions that align with values and aspirations.

Finding the Right Egg Donor

When using donor eggs, selecting a suitable donor is a crucial step, involving comprehensive screenings and assessments to ensure the donor’s suitability for donation and appropriateness for the recipient(s).

Criteria for Selecting an Egg Donor

When considering potential egg donors, recipients evaluate a range of criteria:

  1. Physical aspects: Age and overall health are crucial factors in determining the donor’s suitability for donation.
  2. Genetic screening: Identifying potential hereditary conditions helps ensure the selection of a donor with minimal risk of passing on genetic disorders.
  3. Psychological evaluation: Recipients consider mental and emotional well-being, seeking donors with positive coping mechanisms, stable mental states, and a genuine commitment to helping others build their families.

Ethnicity and Phenotype in Donor Matching

This choice is often motivated by the desire for a child whose physical appearance and background align more closely with the recipients’ own. Ethnic and phenotypic matching needs consideration for people seeking to build a family that reflects their cultural heritage and familial identity. While this aspect of donor selection is subjective and varies among recipients, it underlines the importance of personal preferences.

Selecting the Ideal Embryo Donor

Couples who have successfully undergone IVF treatments can donate cryopreserved embryos to others who want to form a family. This approach presents numerous benefits, including a higher likelihood of success, because the embryos are almost always donated by people who have successfully had a baby with sibling embryos.

Factors When Choosing an Embryo Donor

Several factors come into play when selecting an embryo donor. The donor’s medical history and lifestyle can influence decision-making, helping recipients make choices aligned with their specific needs and preferences. Recipients should be aware of the developmental stage of the embryos and whether or not they have been genetically tested so they know the chances of success and any potential risks. 

The Role of Frozen Donor Embryos

Cryopreserved (frozen) embryos are important to the selection process, as they offer advantages in terms of convenience and timing. These embryos are frozen and stored, allowing recipients to choose the most suitable donor and the optimal time to schedule the FET cycle. Cryopreserved embryos generally have a higher chance of success than frozen donor eggs, so their use might result in fewer IVF cycles, less time and lower cost. They can also reduce the overall cost because egg donors must undergo ovarian stimulation and egg retrievals to obtain their eggs. Donated embryos are given away by the donating couple, although there are costs associated with the screening of donors and the administrative, legal and clinical process of embryo donation. 

Choosing the Ideal Sperm Donor

Sperm donor selection is a valuable option for various family-building scenarios. Knowing its importance will help recipients choose based on their goals.

Traits to Consider When Selecting a Sperm Donor

When choosing a sperm donor, it’s vital to evaluate the following:

  • Physical characteristics such as height, weight, eye color, and ethnicity
  • Medical history and genetic screening results 
  • Lifestyle habits and interests 

Genetic Resemblance vs. Non-Identifiable Donors

While some individuals or couples prefer finding a donor with physical characteristics resembling their own, others may prioritize a non-identifiable donor (previously termed “anonymous”) for reasons such as privacy concerns or a desire to focus solely on the emotional connection with the child. Balancing these aspects ensures recipients select a sperm donor whose attributes align with their priorities and aspirations. 

Legal and Ethical Considerations

Utilizing donor tissue in assisted reproduction entails navigating various legal complexities. Recipients must understand the legal obligations, rights, and responsibilities involved, including parental rights, ownership of genetic material, and establishing legal parent-child relationships. Familiarizing themselves with the legal landscape ensures recipients make informed decisions that protect their interests and comply with relevant laws and regulations.

Anonymity, Disclosure, and Consent

Ethical considerations encompass respecting the donors’ privacy and autonomy while prioritizing the well-being and rights of the potential child. Open discussions about these concerns with medical professionals and donor agencies promote ethical decision-making and uphold the best interests of everyone involved. It must be emphasized that “anonymity” can no longer be guaranteed or even considered likely, given advances in genetics and the use of organizations, companies and social media to identify genetically-related individuals.

Ensuring Safety and Quality

Assisted reproduction relies on partnering with reputable fertility clinics and donor banks. These institutions adhere to strict standards, employing specialized medical professionals and maintaining state-of-the-art facilities to ensure the best possible outcomes for recipients. Entrusting the family-building journey to well-regarded and trusted entities offers confidence and peace of mind.

Understanding Screening and Testing Procedures

Donors undergo rigorous medical assessments, genetic testing, and infectious disease screenings to verify their suitability for donation. This testing is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with severe penalties for non-compliance. Understanding these meticulous procedures assures recipients that the donor tissues meet high health and quality standards, minimizing potential risks and complications.

Transparent Communication Between the Recipient and the Donor

Open dialogue allows recipients to discuss their specific needs, preferences, and any concerns they may have. Conversely, the organization or clinic providing the donor tissue can provide detailed information about the donor, including medical history, genetic background, and other relevant aspects, empowering recipients to make well-informed choices aligned with their family-building goals.

Emotional Coping Strategies

Selecting donor tissues in assisted reproduction can evoke emotions of loss, uncertainty, and a desire for a genetic connection with the child. Consider some of these coping strategies:

  • Learning as much as possible about the process from reputable sources (
  • Fertility support groups
  • Parenting after infertility groups
  • Fertility counselors or therapists
  • Psychologists or counselors with experience in infertility and family building
  • Fertility clinics
  • Friends and family
  • Online platforms or forums
  • Religious or spiritual advisors
  • Non-profit organizations
  • Therapeutic apps
  • Virtual mental health platforms
  • Social media groups

Comprehensive Donor Tissue Approach

Approaching donor tissue selection requires informed decisions, evaluating physical, genetic, and psychological aspects while addressing legal, ethical, and emotional factors with empathy and support. Despite the emotional challenges, seeking guidance from reputable fertility clinics, professional counseling, and supportive communities can offer resilience and hope. 

ARC Fertility is committed to providing exceptional fertility care to employees through its Fertility Benefits Program. By collaborating with employers, ARC offers inclusive benefits designed to support couples, individuals, and people from all genders on their unique paths to creating families. With a nationwide network of top-tier fertility clinics, ARC Fertility ensures easy access to the best fertility specialists in your local area. 

Contact ARC to Talk to a Fertility Specialist near You

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