Associate Professor, OBGYN
Harvard Medical School
Director, Third Party & LBGTQ
RMA of Northern California
For many, selecting an egg donor is a major decision as this person will be contributing half of the genetics to your child.
For many, the more information they have, and the more they can trust that information, the better. Much of the information given to hopeful parents is provided by the donor themselves, and agencies or middlemen have no incentive to pressure test seemingly encouraging facts (e.g. donor went to an admired school, possess sought-after ethnic heritage).
By and large, we can group the criteria intending parents use to select a donor into six categories.
Hopeful parents almost universally look for someone who is young, healthy, and has a seemingly unremarkable “family health history”. Often if the person providing sperm has a specific family health condition (e.g. depression, diabetes, substance abuse) of concern, intending parents will screen out donors who have a similar family condition.
Many tend to focus on the donor’s race, ethnicity, religion or, sometimes relatedly, their physical appearance. For many, the goal is to find a donor who could conceivably belong to an intending parent’s family of origin. This may be reflected in skin tone, eye color, height, build, or more subtle traits like their smile.
Some ethnicities, heritages, and religious affiliations (e.g. Black, Japanese, Jewish, Muslim) tend to be underrepresented amongst donors. They may be easier to find with agencies focused on certain groups or with a presence in a specific geographic region.
Often you’ll be shown pictures of the donor, but experts will remind you those pictures may incorporate cosmetic treatment that doesn’t reflect a donor’s “natural” appearance. For that reason, requesting baby pictures and pictures of other family members can be a good idea.
It’s common for intending parents to show an interest in the donor’s schooling, grades, degrees, test scores or current occupation or hobbies. Again, much of this is self-reported and seldom verified by third parties.
Donors often provide a personal statement of who they are and why they felt compelled to become a donor. In countries where egg donors are highly-compensated (a subject that elicits serious ethical debate), most intending parents recognize the driving force behind a donor’s intentions are monetary. That said, there may be additional clues within the donor’s statement about their motivations, or how they considered the choice, that resonate with the intending parent(s).
In many countries it’s illegal for donors to have ongoing contact with donor egg families, but to the degree it is allowed, some intending parents seek a donor prepared to be in touch during the consideration process, to be open to answering questions as the child grows up, or to be in contact when the child turns 18 years old.
In other countries, like the U.K., this option is already baked into the process. Donors understand that the offspring will legally have the option of requesting their donors identity once they turn 18 and, at that time, may choose to reach out.
As you’ll see in the next few lessons, the cost, complexity, and logistical burden for procuring eggs can vary donor-to-donor. For some intending parents, these factors will be the first set of constraints on their decision, while for others, it may tip the scales when trying to decide between two similarly interesting donors.
Ultimately, there are questions as to who is verifying the information intending parents use to make their selection. This can vary based upon country, regions, and who is helping select the donor but in countries like the United States, the process tends to follow this pattern.
This is provided by the donor to an agency or third party, often with high-level vetting. If the intending parents express interest in a donor, the information is passed along to the fertility clinic for approval.
A licensed, independent mental health professional (often arranged for by an agency or third party) will recommend whether the donor understands the implications of her decision and is pursuing donation with a clear conscience and free of coercion. The recommendation is provided to the clinic for approval.
A doctor will perform a pap, STD panel, ultrasound, and bloodwork to determine the degree to which the donor will produce a suitable number of eggs that are safe to store and transfer. An OBGYN or your fertility clinic may oversee the examination, and your clinic will evaluate the results.
In conjunction, intending parents often need to undergo a psychological evaluation themselves that covers, amongst many subjects, how they’ll perceive their child and themselves once that child (conceived with donor eggs) is born. The parent providing their genetic material will also have an infectious disease panel run that will be submitted to a clinic for approval.