Becoming Pregnant via Embryo Donation: How Does it Work in the UK?

If you have trouble conceiving, whether you are a single woman or in a couple, there exists a form of fertility treatment called embryo donation which might be worth considering. Embryos are the result of eggs fertilized with sperm in a laboratory, and thus this option is suited to those who find it difficult to get pregnant using their own eggs and/or sperm.

What is embryo donation?

Couples or single women who have successfully become pregnant via fertility treatment sometimes have extra embryos left over. They can decide to store these surplus unused embryos for up to 10 years, in case the first treatment cycle fails or if they want to have more children in the future. Those who don’t feel the need to use the embryos anymore can make the choice to donate them to another couple experiencing fertility problems.

Additionally, couples or single women who couldn’t use the embryo during their treatment can also decide to donate them. These will be frozen and then transferred to another recipient’s uterus via a catheter.


illustration embryo transfer embryon uterus

Who can donate embryos?

In most cases, egg or embryo donors must be between the ages of 18 and 35. However, in certain situations, some clinics are willing to accept donors over the age of 36.

The embryo donor must go through several tests before the donation to ensure that they are not carrying sexually transmitted diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C or Cytomegalovirus. Furthermore, all donors, whether egg or sperm, are legally obliged to provide written consent for the donation to take place.

Donors are not paid in the UK and the donation is entirely voluntary. However, they may receive a £35 compensation to cover their expenses. A current shortage of eggs and embryos due to high demand means that British couples who want to have a child face long waiting lists.

Embryos are donated to couples that correspond closely to the donors. Several characteristics, such as hair and eye colour, occupation and interests, are taken into consideration.

Who can use donated embryos?

Donated embryos are used for fertility treatment when a couple or a single woman experiences trouble conceiving. As an embryo is the result of an egg fertilized with sperm, this is a solution for couples who require both egg and sperm donation. Embryo donation is also a solution to avoid the transmission of any genetic disorders to the child. Furthermore, this treatment is used by single and post-menopausal women who can’t use their own eggs.

Who are the legal parents?

If you are married or in a civil relationship, you and your partner will be considered the legal parents of any child born via embryo donation.

However, if you are an unmarried couple or a couple that is not in a civil partnership, the situation is a bit more complicated. While the person who gives birth automatically becomes the legal mother, this is not the case for the partner. In order that he or she be recognised as the legal father or mother, both partners must give written consent. It’s important to note that consent will have to be provided before the start of the treatment, that is to say, before the embryo is transferred into the woman’s womb.

The same rules apply to same-sex couples, even if one partner donates her eggs to the other. People who want to become co-parents and are not involved in a relationship must give their consent as well.

Deciding who are the legal parents is essential, as this clarifies who will have the right to make important decisions concerning the child’s life. Such decisions include medical treatment, schooling or religious education. Being a legal parent also involves accepting financial responsibility for the child.

Can information be given to children born via embryo donation?

Once they are 18, children who are born via embryo donation in the UK have the right to ask for identifying information about their donors. Moreover, if they are involved in a sexual relationship at the age of 16, they are entitled to receive documentation about their donors on request.


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