Is It a Good Idea to Use a Relative as a Sperm or Egg Donor?
What you need to know before you approach a family member.
Posted July 3, 2019 | Reviewed by Gary Drevitch
Purchasing donor egg or sperm is not uncommon for those struggling with infertility. For many reasons, be it a hormonal disorder or a same-sex relationship, donor tissue may be the best or only option.
Egg or sperm donation is also called collaborative reproduction or third-party reproduction, and the donors are usually anonymous or unrelated known individuals. But if the donor is a sibling or cousin, the process is called familial gamete donation. The merits of this approach are often debated.
On the one hand, there are many advantages:
- If you’re considering a sibling. Since a donor’s egg and sperm contain an assortment of genes from their gene pool, not themselves, a full brother or sister’s set of gametes have the same assortment of genes as their siblings’ gametes (egg or sperm) because they have the same parents. So, if your sister is your donor, it’s like she’s giving your reproductive system a transfusion of genes from your own ancestors.
- If you’re considering extended family. If you’re a woman and a first cousin is to be your donor, one of her parents shares a gene pool with one of your parents, so 50 percent of the genetic material in any of her eggs will be from the same gene pool as the genetic material in your eggs. (The same is true for first cousin sperm donors.)
- If you’re a same-sex couple. If you’re in a same-sex female couple and use your partner’s egg and, say, your own brother as a sperm donor, you’ll have a child that shares your gene pool. Likewise, same-sex male couples could use the egg of one partner's sister and the other partner’s sperm. The egg donor’s brother will have a child that shares his gene pool. If same-sex couples have two children, the other partner will frequently use a familial donor for the second child, so each child will have both parent’s genetics. A good example: In a same-sex female couple, partner A would use partner A family’s tissue for the first child, and partner B would use partner B family’s tissue for the second child.
- If you want to save money. A big advantage for many is that using a family member is typically less costly because the donation is often altruistic, and the donor doesn’t expect or want to be compensated. Even if the donor is given a gift after retrieval, it still costs less than paying a donor agency.
- If you want to save time. Familial donation is usually faster because the process of searching for an unrelated donor who has a similar gene pool as the recipient can take time. In addition, factor the time it takes to find a donor who’s also in the optimal age range, and who is both available when the recipient is available and motivated to follow through.
But for all the advantages of familial gamete donation, there are some significant disadvantages:
- Coercion can be a problem. Free and informed consent is crucial to familial donation, but when a sibling has fertility problems, it’s very difficult for a sister or brother to say no if they are asked to donate genetic material from the gene pool they share. Even if there are no overt demands, it’s hard to know if there was psychological pressure that was guilt-based, self-imposed, or based on some past “you owe me” situation.
- Second thoughts can develop later. If the familial donor has not had a child yet and finds that they develop fertility problems of their own later on, it’s possible they will resent their family member’s child, and may even blame themselves for donating or blame donation as the cause of their own fertility problem. If you are thinking of familial donation, encourage your donor to speak to their own doctors and convince themselves that the process will not harm them before they donate.
- Confusion about the role of the donor. This is a frequent issue. It’s vital that donors understand that they are dipping a cup into a pool of genes which has trillions of combinations, and not giving away a piece of themselves. In fact, the genetics in the particular egg or sperm used by a recipient may have genes from relatives the donor shares with the recipient but that neither has ever met or who are from generations long past. Recipients should also understand that they are getting some family genes for a baby from a familial donor, but they are not getting a baby. The baby will be built by the pregnant mother’s body and from the mother’s body, and it is her gestational child.
- Familial donation is sometimes mistaken as incest. It’s not. A sister, for example, may give eggs to her sister who has her own partner or sperm donor, and a brother may give sperm to his brother who has his own partner or egg donor, but a brother may not provide sperm to fertilize his own sister's eggs, and a sister may not provide eggs to be fertilized by her own brother's sperm. In other words, the familial donation would never duplicate incest by putting a brother’s and sister’s gametes together. If your plans for familial donation is not understood by all involved and even gives the appearance of being incestuous or consanguineous, it should probably be avoided because it will confuse the donor, your family (if they know about the arrangement), and, eventually ,the child.
The final decision about using a family member as your donor comes down to this:
- Are you clear that your donor is giving you back some of your own gene pool, not giving you a baby?
- Is your donor and everyone else involved also clear on that?
If everyone is on board, clear on the issues, informed, and all parties consent, then this may be a great option for you. Make sure to ask your fertility specialist or physician any questions you may have about this process.