Gamete Donation and the Law.
Ethics and Laws of gamete donation
IVF, and particularly gamete donation, is a highly controversial topic. The field breaks many taboos, social boundaries and ethical fields. Therefore, most countries in the world have felt the need to develop Laws limiting the use of IVF technology for the donation of gametes. These Laws range from outright bans of gamete donation, bans on egg donation but not sperm donation (for example in Switzerland), to complete freedom and the subsequent commercialisation of the technique (for example in the USA).
The ethics of gamete donation stem from 3 principles. Firstly, there is the question of payments to donors. On one side, payments are deemed necessary to compensate for the risks and time lost involved in egg and sperm donation, whereas the other argument suggests that payments are unethical because they induce people to take unnecessary risks. A second argument is the number of times people should donate i.e. how many children should a single donor be allowed to conceive. The third argument is on whether the donor should have any responsibility for donating gametes i.e. whether children conceived through gamete donation should be able to trace their biological parents.
Anonymous gamete donation.
Here, eggs, sperm samples and even developing embryos are donated ‘anonymously’. This means that the centre of assisted reproduction knows who has donated to whom, but no court order, request or otherwise can force them to reveal this. Often, anonymity occurs to the point where no actual record of the donation is kept, meaning that the practice cannot be traced (see this article for an example).
Regarding semen, samples are cryopreserved, and eggs are supplied fresh or occasionally cryopreserved. Attempts are made to match up donors with the recipients by the clinicians, but recipients often have little choice in the matter. Essentially, anonymous donation takes the process out of the hands of the recipient and puts it into the hands of the operator, although in some cases databases of donors are available to visualize and choose (but this process gives rise to the possibility of being recognized). Anonymous donation protects the donor from surprises later in life, but perhaps is not entirely satisfactory for the recipient, since the element of choice is often eliminated from the equation.
Non-anonymous gamete donation
In this process, the donor is registered with the health authorities, and must leave identifiable information such as name and address as well as physical characteristics. Again, where local Laws permit, the process of donor-recipient matching can be either in the hands of the recipient or left to the operator to decide. Each single act of donation is registered again with the health authorities, as well as names, address and characteristics of offspring produced with this act.
The donor may enquire as to how many offspring have been conceived with the process, and the offspring, once reaching maturity (usually 18 years) can find out about their genetic parents (i.e. the donor). Obviously, this process adds clarity and freedom of information to the process, but to the donor is perhaps less acceptable since there is the distinct possibility of having your genetic child pay a visit one day.Since the identifiable donor cannot elect to be non-identifiable in most countries, the lack of choice can put many people off from donating gametes. However, there are also some advantages, for example the donor may elect to be notified in the case that offspring are born with a genetic disease, so that the donor knows that they are carriers of the mutation in question.
Opinions abound as to which type of donation, anonymous or identifiable, is the best, or most correct version. In a sense, anonymous donation is possibly more correct as a medical procedure since it removes the element of commercialization from the equation – one simply ‘corrects’ a clinical defect (infertility). From the point of view of the recipient public though, being able to choose your donor from a database gives the ‘consumer’ (recipient) a choice in what is also a commercial transaction – the act of donation at least in the USA is lucrative and recipients pay many thousands of dollars for the act.
These considerations form the basis of Laws on donating eggs and sperm. However, Laws differ throughout the world, depending on to what extent the relative arguments have convinced Lawmakers. For example, in Northern Europe, traceable gamete donation is now relatively common (i.e. the donor must leave identifiable information in order to donate gametes). In Southern Europe, anonymous donation is the norm.
Before you embark on a cycle of IVF with egg donation, you should be aware of the Law in the country with which you will be having treatment. Here, we have compiled a list of Laws regarding egg and sperm donation throughout the World. The compilation demonstrates the views different countries have on this subject.
If we have missed your country, or you discover a mistake in the list, please don’t hesitate to contact us through the IVFAgent contact form.
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