Treatments and investigations


Certain couples have both major egg and sperm problems. Embryo donation offers a particular opportunity for such couples to have children rather than opt for complexities of combined egg and sperm donation. As with egg donors, embryo donors only present themselves infrequently.

Couples store embryos for their own future use. Very occasionally, upon completion of their family, such a couple may decide to donate their remaining embryos rather than see them disposed of when they become time expired.

When such couples come forwards, in depth counselling takes place so that they appreciate fully the implications of their potential donation. If their generous donation is successful, their own children will have genetic brothers / sisters outside their own family. An appointment is arranged for the donors to see a very experienced counsellor. All the implications of embryo donation including the legal and ethical aspects are discussed in detail.

Who can be an embryo donor?

When egg donation is carried out there is only one donor, namely the donor of the eggs. With embryo donation there are two donors, the provider of the eggs and the provider of the sperm. The provider of the egg must be over the age of 18 and younger than 36. The provider of the sperm must be under the age of 56. Very occasionally exceptions may arise when an older egg provider may be acceptable

The embryo donors are required to be fit and healthy and must not have any serious medical disability. Their respective families must be free from any known inherited genetic disorder. If a donor did not inform the centre of an inherited disease in her/his family that she/he knew about or should have reasonably known about, an affected child born as a result of the embryo donation could then sue for damages.

A confidential Donor Information Form is filled out registering details of both the egg and sperm provider with the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority (HFEA). They each complete and sign a donor consent form.

The embryo donors both go through a series of blood tests. Tests are taken from both to ensure that there are no infections that could be passed on to the recipient of the donated embryos. These tests include Hepatitis B and C, HIV, syphilis, gonorrhoea, chlamydia and cytomegalovirus (CMV). Further tests are taken from the donors for blood grouping, full blood count, electrophoresis, chromosome make-up (karyotype) and cystic fibrosis screening.

Legal Aspects

These are the same as for egg and sperm donation (see Egg Donation and Donor Insemination Information). The embryo donors will not be given any identifiable information about the recipient/s of their embryos. If they wish to know, they will be informed if a live birth has resulted from their donation.

Only non-identifying information can be given to the recipient of donated embryos. Physical characteristics of the couple such as their respective heights, hair and eye colours as well as the blood groups are given so as to try and obtain as close a match as possible or at least one that is acceptable to the recipient.

Apart from the treatment centre, only the HFEA will hold identifying information about the donors. The names and details of the donors and the recipient must be registered with the HFEA. When the donor registration forms are completed, the donors are invited to write non-identifying information about themselves, such as interests, the type of persons they are, their general outlook on life, why they made the decision to donate embryos etc. This information can be revealed to the recipient.

It is already established in law that the HFEA will be able to give non-identifying information to a future enquirer. From the age of 16 an enquirer can be told whether or not he or she is closely related to someone they are intending to marry. At the present time, from the age of 18 an enquirer can be told whether or not he or she is the result of IVF, egg, sperm or embryo donation, not who the donor was. All identifying information held by the HFEA is confidential. Unauthorised disclosure of the donor's identity is a criminal offence.

At the present time, it is not possible for a donor embryo recipient to find out who the donors are or vice versa. However, following public consultation, both the HFEA and the government have obtained a change in the regulations of the HFE Act (1990). Since 2005, all new sperm, egg or embryo donors can only be accepted as donors if they agree that identifying information about themselves will be provided upon request to donor-conceived people after they have reached the age of 18 years. This will only be after attempts have been made to contact the donors before their identities are disclosed to a person conceived following the donation of their embryos. The donors will then be advised to seek appropriate counselling.

When embryos are donated, the law regards the woman receiving the embryos as the baby's mother. If she has a husband or male partner who gives his consent to the treatment, he is considered by law to be the baby's father.

If a single woman without a partner receives donor embryos from a couple who had originally had the embryos stored for their own use, the sperm provider (to the embryos) is regarded as the legal father. This could affect the sperm provider to the embryos with potential claims by the resulting child on his estate. (This outcome was not intended by the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Act (2008) and may be amended by future legislation.)

If I need donor embryos, what happens next?

You will need to be referred to a centre by your GP or consultant. You may of course already be a patient of the centre and have been informed that embryo donation is one of the options you could consider.

If it is considered that embryo donation is appropriate for you, you will both need to see a very experienced infertility counsellor. There will be many issues that it is valuable for you to discuss. This also gives the centre a further opportunity to assess your emotional and psychological suitability to receive donated embryos. The support counselling you will receive can be most helpful to both of you.

It is a legal requirement to assess both the welfare of any child that may result from licensed treatments such as embryo donation as well as the welfare of any existing children you may already have. You will each be given a questionnaire relating to this.

Screening tests are then carried out on both of you. As you are essentially being considered for IVF, you will both need to have the same tests as for an IVF treatment cycle with the additional tests required because of the embryo donation. This means that both of you are screened for HIV, Hepatitis B & C, Cytomegalovirus (CMV) and syphilis. Your blood groups are determined for donor compatability. The recipient of the embryos will also require to have a full blood count, Rubella antibody screen and hormone profile.

When you have been accepted to receive treatment by embryo donation, there is likely to be a significant delay while waiting for a suitable donor.

When a suitable embryo donor is available, you will have a planning consultation. The consent forms to be in receipt of donor embryos are signed by both of you. The plan of your treatment cycle will be discussed in full and there will be ample opportunity to have all of your queries answered.

You are not under any obligation or pressure to accept the embryos that are being offered to you. Perfect matching is not always possible. If you are unhappy with the physical characteristics /match of the donors being offered, it would be very unwise to accept that source of embryos. This will not in any way jeopardise your treatment.

What does the actual process of embryo donation involve?

The principles involved in embryo transfer using donor embryos, are exactly the same as in standard frozen embryo transfer (see Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) information).

A maximum of two embryos will be transferred as the egg donor will be under the age of 36.

March 2009