An egg-cellent gift

by Antonella Dési
The process of donating eggs
Reading Time: 4 minutes
Egg donorship is a remarkable process that empowers individuals to make a profound difference in the lives of those struggling with fertility challenges. It is a selfless act that allows individuals or couples who are unable to conceive with their own eggs, to experience the joys of parenthood. By Antonella Desi

Understanding egg donorship

Egg donation involves the process of providing eggs, or oocytes, from a healthy and willing donor to intended parents. The eggs are then fertilised with sperm in a laboratory setting, and the resulting embryos are transferred to the recipient’s uterus.

Donorship can be a lifeline for individuals facing various reproductive issues, says Aevitas Egg Bank Cape Town: “There are a number of reasons that could lead to someone requiring your help through egg donation. To be able to fall pregnant, an important factor for the mother is to have good quality eggs for fertilisation. There are various factors which could lead to a decreased amount- and quality of eggs. These could include: age; early menopause; treatment of medical conditions e.g. chemotherapy which could damage eggs; and many more.”

READ What it’s like to be an egg donor in SA

The process of donating eggs

In South Africa, egg donors come from diverse backgrounds, as the emphasis is on the health and genetic compatibility of the donor rather than specific characteristics. The Nurture Egg Donor Program explains that if you are a healthy female, aged between 19 and 29 years old, with a BMI of between 18 and 28, with no medical issues or no history of genetically transferrable diseases, then you can become an egg donor.

The egg donation process spans about 2 to 3 months, and it generally involves the following steps:

  • Application and screening: Prospective donors start by completing an application detailing their medical history, lifestyle, and motivation for donation. Then, a more thorough medical and psychological evaluation will take place, involving physical exams, blood tests, genetic assessments, and counselling sessions to ensure the donor’s suitability.
  • Synchronisation and stimulation: Once accepted, the donor’s menstrual cycle is synchronised with the recipient’s through hormonal medications. This is followed by ovarian stimulation to promote the development of multiple eggs.
  • Egg retrieval: When the eggs are mature, a minimally invasive procedure called egg retrieval is performed. This involves extracting the eggs from the donor’s ovaries using a thin needle, guided by ultrasound, while the donor is under sedation.
  • Fertilisation and transfer: The retrieved eggs are fertilised with sperm to create embryos in a laboratory environment. After a few days of growth, one or more healthy embryos are transferred to the recipient’s uterus.

CLICK What it’s like to have a child using an egg donor

Legal implications

In South Africa, the 2003 National Health Act (amended in 2016) provides strict and comprehensive legal guidelines to regulate egg donation and protect all parties involved. The donor must truthfully provide accurate medical history information for herself and her family and maintain a healthy lifestyle throughout the donation process as her legal responsibility.

Upon receiving all essential information about the donation process, the donor must sign a written consent form if she intends to proceed with the donation. Says the Wijnland Fertility Clinic: “It is of extreme importance to us that the donor understands that she is allowed to withdraw her consent at any point before the use of the ova for fertilisation, however once the ova have been used for fertilisation, legal ownership of the embryo formed with the use of donated ova, will vest in the recipient.”

Legally, anonymity will be maintained for both the donor and the recipient/s. The donor will not have any legal obligations for any children resulting from her donation, and relinquishes all parental rights indefinitely. If the donor is diagnosed with a serious genetic medical condition, she is legally bound to inform the egg donor agency. Also, according to Chapter 8 of the National Health Act (Act No. 61 of 2003), Regulations Relating to Artificial Fertilisation (Government Gazette, 30 September 2016), a donor may not have more than 12 live births, excluding the donor’s own children.

CHECK OUT All you need to know about freezing your eggs

Cost and compensation

Donors do get paid, however the compensation provided to donors is not meant to cover the donated eggs – it’s not a sale, but rather a gift to someone else. Instead, the compensation received is meant to be payment for the time and effort required to go through the donation process. Egg donation payments vary, but Nurture Egg Donor Program explains their policy: “Egg donors will get paid between R8 000 and R10 000 each time they donate. Donors can donate a maximum of 6 times.” donating eggs cost and compensation

Health and emotional impact

Egg donation, while generally safe, does carry certain health risks. These can include potential reactions to hormonal medications used for egg stimulation, ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS), infection, bleeding, and anaesthesia-related complications during the egg retrieval procedure. It’s important for donors to be aware of these risks and to undergo thorough medical screenings to minimise potential complications.

In addition to physical risks, there are the possible psychological reactions to consider. According to a study published on the National Academies Press, one main psychological issues is the effect of the hormone injections, which can cause feelings of irritability, being rejection-sensitive, feeling emotional, weeping, and low mood: “The study found that half the donors reported mood swings and irritability during the hormone treatment.”

In conclusion, becoming an egg donor is a selfless act that offers the gift of life to individuals and couples facing fertility challenges. While it’s a compassionate journey that can bring a sense of fulfilment, potential donors must be aware of the physical and emotional aspects involved. It’s also crucial that they understand the legal implications, the commitment required, and the health considerations associated with the process. By contributing to the creation of families, egg donors play a vital role in bringing hope and happiness to those in need, embodying the spirit of generosity and compassion.

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