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Egg Donors – anonymous, known, semi-known?

After someone decides to do donor egg IVF, one of the very first decisions to make is anonymous donor, known donor, or something in between (sometimes called semi-known).    This one question will help determine which clinics you can use and what your next steps will be.

As in all things fertility-related, there is no single “right” answer to this question.   It is a very personal choice that should be made thoughtfully. 

Let’s explore factors that might help you decide:

I think the PVED (Parent’s Via Egg Donation) website does a terrific job of describing each below:

  • An anonymous egg donor is an egg donor you do not meet, selected with the help of a clinic or an agency. You do not know her name or anything else about her that is not stated on her profile. You may or may not see a photo of the donor. The donor would know nothing about the recipient/intended parent(s) or the cycle other than how many eggs were retrieved, and in some instances, whether or not a pregnancy resulted.
  • A semi-known egg donor is an egg donor who knows the recipient/intended parent(s’) first name(s) and the state in which they live. The donor and recipient/intended parent(s) might exchange emails and photos; however, no specific personal information is provided about the donor or the recipient/intended parent(s).
  • A known egg donor can be a friend, family member, or someone selected by the recipient/intended parent(s) with the intention of meeting face-to-face. The donor may know the recipient/intended parent(s’) first and last names and/or where they live, and in addition the two parties may be willing to exchange email, telephone calls, and personal information as well as to continue to keep in contact with one another. The donor and the recipient/intended parent(s) may agree upon the child meeting the donor at a future point in time. The recipient/intended parent(s) may or may not send photos of their child with updates to the egg donor as well. The arrangement regarding exchange of information is agreed upon and put into place between the egg donor and recipient/intended parent(s) at the time of the cycle. In many instances, information is shared for medical purposes.

Now comes the hard part, deciding which of these is best choice. There are a variety of factors that can help make it easier to decide. 

Anonymous – this means you do not get to personally pick the donor and will not have any relationship with this donor.  Someone else–usually the RE or clinic–is making the selection for you, generally based on criteria that you provide.  That criteria could include height, weight, hair & eye coloring, ethnicity, age, education and a variety of other factors – you may even see a baby or adult photo in some cases (although generally not allowed in many clinics abroad).  And even though it is anonymous, you will likely receive some limited information about the donor.  This may range from the most basic stats to pages of detailed information.  Often the laws of the country where you are doing IVF will determine how much information is made available to you.  Be sure to ask this in advance and make sure you are comfortable with the level of information you will receive.  There is something to be said about eliminating all of the angst of making the donor selection yourself – you aren’t paying for testing of a donor that might not be approved, and you aren’t getting attached to a donor only to find out she’s no longer available. 

One consideration with an anonymous donor–particularly in most cases where you will never see a photo–is that you will never look at your chld and see the donor’s characteristics or say to yourself – I see the donor’s eyes, chin, smile, etc.     For some, that alone may be worth giving up the option to see a photo of the donor. 

Also, in most cases you won’t have to deal with the details of a donor contract.  The contract will be between the clinic and the donor, you will not be a party to that contract. Nor will you have any liability for the donor’s future medical care for anything related to the cycle (this clause is included in many donor contracts).

Of course, it also means that your child will never have the opportunity to learn more about the donor.  For some people, this is a deal breaker, for others, it is a blessing. 

Semi-known – More and more I see a move toward semi-known donors here in the US.   It is sort of a hybrid between known and anonymous – with some of the benefits of a known donor (photos, detailed profile, etc.) without full information disclosure or the worry about having an on-going relationship with the donor.  Perhaps we are kidding ourselves though if we believe that with a first name, college information, age, photo and other lmiited imformation a prospective parent wouldn’t be able to find out full information about a donor in about 15 minutes with Google and Facebook.  And the opposite is also probably true that many intended parents could be tracked down just as easily. 

Some clinics or agencies will allow you to have a face to face meeting with a semi-known donor, and some will not.   If this is important to you, discuss it with the agency or clinic in advance.  Semi-known donation  does generally require that you have a contract with the donor, which may allow you to negotiate some of the terms of the donation, your obligations, and potential future contact.  However, keep in mind that you really cannot legally make someone fulfill their commitment to allow contact with you or your child 18 years down the road. They may commit to keep a 3rd party notified of their contact information, but realistically, a lot can happen in a donor’s life in 18 years.  So, while you can set the expectation of a potential exchange of information, legal experts seem to agree that it would be difficult if not impossible to enforce.  Yet, it still provides the potential of your child obtaining more information (health history, etc.) about the donor if all parties agree.     

Known– Often a known donor is a friend or family member, but it can also be someone you’ve never met before.  The characteristic of a known donor is that full information is exchanged between parties.  A legal contract spelling out all of the details of the agreement is a must!  Even if this is a family member or best friend, it is best to keep everything outlined in writing so no misunderstandings occur.  If this person is a family member or close friend, it is a very good idea to have counseling together to explore all aspects of the process and make sure you are in sync with what will happen regarding frozen embryos, disclosure, and many other aspects.

Some clinics outside of the US will allow you to bring your own known donor,  but some countries have laws that prevent any known donors.  So be sure to verify this in advance with the clinic if you are looking at DE IVF abroad and want to bring your own donor.    And if you do bring your own known donor to another country, you should still have a legal contract in place in the country where you live and do the psychological evaluations to help ensure that everyone is in agreement about key aspects of the process. 

Is there one “right” choice?  No.  You have to decide what is most important to you, and that will help you narrow down your options of where you can go for your treatment.  That’s why this should probably be one of the first decisions you make. 

But aren’t we lucky to have so many choices available to us?

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