Using donors or surrogates
Many Canadians undergo fertility treatments like in vitro fertilization using their own sperm or eggs. Sometimes, though, the best or only chance of getting pregnant means using sperm, eggs, or embryos that are donated by a third party. It may also mean using a surrogate mother to carry the baby on your behalf.
If you are considering using a donor or a surrogate, you should think about all possible issues before making a decision.
Using donor sperm, eggs, or embryos
Under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, you cannot increase the probability that an embryo will be a particular sex, unless this will prevent, diagnose, or treat a sex-linked disorder or disease.
A third party donor is a person who provides eggs or sperm to either someone they know (like a friend) or someone they don't know.
The most common reasons for using donated sperm, eggs, or embryos include:
- You are unable to get pregnant using your own sperm or eggs, because of infertility or some other physical condition you or your spouse/partner have.
- You are single or a same sex couple, and donor eggs, sperm, or embryos are needed to build your family.
- There is a known genetic (inherited) condition in your family that you want to avoid passing on to your children.
How does donation work?
To be accepted as a sperm donor by a clinic, the donor must go through testing and provide a complete medical history. Based on this information, the clinic will decide if that person qualifies as a donor.
Egg donation is more complex and personally demanding than sperm donation. The donor must first use fertility drugs to stimulate their ovaries, then have surgery to remove their eggs. As with all drugs and medical procedures, the donor should discuss the process and health risks with a doctor before deciding to donate.
You will probably get to read your donor's medical history. But their identity may be protected if you choose a donor who wants to be anonymous.
Using a surrogate
If you are unable to carry a baby yourself, you may want to consider using a surrogate mother.
A surrogate mother (or gestational carrier) is a woman who agrees to carry an embryo for another person or couple. An embryo is conceived through fertility treatments, and the surrogate mother is implanted with the embryo. She carries the baby, then gives the child at birth to the person or couple.
There are two main types of surrogacy:
- genetic: the egg of the surrogate mother is used
- gestational: the egg of the surrogate mother is not used
Issues to consider
In choosing to build your family through third-party donation or surrogacy, it is important that you consider issues like these:
You may have many emotions when thinking about using a surrogate or donated sperm or eggs to build your family. If you are the partner whose sperm or eggs are not being used (or you are unable to carry a baby), you may feel a sense of loss or sadness about not having a genetic link with your child. These feelings may be compounded by guilt or a sense that you have disappointed your spouse or partner.
You should talk about your feelings with your spouse, doctor, and counsellor before going ahead. Also see Coping with stress.
Deciding whether to use a surrogate or donated sperm or eggs may be one of the most difficult decisions you will make in your life. If you have a spouse or partner who is not as comfortable with this option, or if you feel pressured to agree to it in order to please someone else, please wait and think things through. These kind of pressures might later lead to regrets and could have a negative impact on your relationship with your spouse or partner and any resulting child(ren).
For a spouse or partner who will not have a genetic link, there may be extra anxiety about parenting. This may include fears about being unable to create an emotional attachment to the child, or concerns about how the child will respond to knowing a surrogate or sperm or egg donor was involved in their conception. These feelings may be different depending upon whether you are receiving donor sperm or eggs, or are the spouse or partner of someone receiving them.
Telling your child
How and when to tell your child about their genetic background is a very personal decision. Building on what is known in the area of adoption, most professionals recommend that you tell your child from a young age, so it can become part of their identity as they grow and mature. Experience shows that children who learn about their background at a young age adapt well, and are more likely to develop a positive selfconcept.
If you have told others about your fertility treatments, but do not plan to tell your child, there is a strong risk that your child will find out from someone else. For a child, this may undermine their sense of trust within the family. Also, some children who are not told how they were conceived may come to suspect that their parents are withholding information about their genetic origin.
The approach you take to telling others about donation or surrogacy details will depend on many factors, including your comfort level about sharing information. You may choose to discuss your decision with family and friends before undergoing fertility treatments. Or you may do so only after getting pregnant, or after birth. Keep in mind that as soon as your baby is born, friends or family members may comment on their level of physical resemblance to you or to other family members.
Under the Assisted Human Reproduction Act, you cannot buy (or advertise to buy) sperm or eggs from a donor or a person acting on behalf of a donor. You also cannot buy (or advertise to buy) the services of a surrogate. You can reimburse a donor or surrogate for actual expenses they have related to the donation or pregnancy.
Using a known donor or surrogate
If you are using a surrogate you know or getting a donation from someone you know, you should make sure you agree about issues like how many times they will donate, and how (or if) you will share information with others, especially children who are born from the donation. You may also want to discuss whether the genetic link to the donor will affect the role they play or expect to play in your family.
Your province or territory may have specific laws concerning the rights and responsibilities of donors, surrogates, and recipients. You should consider getting advice from a lawyer. Your fertility clinic may also be able to guide you.
Finding a donor or surrogate
Your doctor or fertility clinic may be able to help you find a surrogate or egg or sperm donor. Not all clinics provide donor services or store eggs, sperm, or embryos for donation. Some clinics can direct you to other suppliers if they don't provide the service themselves, and may help you import sperm from another country.
For more information on donating eggs, sperm, or embryos, see Become a donor.
Choosing to use a surrogate, or sperm, eggs, or embryos from a third party donor is a complex decision with many implications. You may want to consider seeing a counsellor. They can help you with your decision and point you to community resources and information.
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