Imagine a couple who has been told that their eggs are no longer viable. This can be the result of many factors including a woman's age and general health. Such a couple may or may not have gone through many different courses of treatments, without positive success. They have literally reached the end of all their options. Egg donation is their last resort.
Not only is this a psychologically challenging issue for the couple, but it is accompanied by many practical and halachic complications as well.
The use of donor eggs is a highly sensitive issue. Many reputable physicians and organizations issue inaccurate information regarding the halachic permissibility of egg donation. It is imperative that couples consult either their personal Rabbi or a PUAH counselor to determine if the posek they identify with would allow this procedure.
- Necessity: Since there are different approaches and success rates among medical professionals, we advise any couple who has been advised to pursue egg donation to seek out a second opinion for verification (as with all major medical procedures). This may include a consultation with an expert PUAH counselor (who should also be consulted for the necessary halachic determinations required below).
- Egg Availability: As noted below, there are varying halachic opinions as to who is regarded as the best egg donor for a Jewish couple. Additionally, it is highly recommended that the donor have physical characteristics that are similar to the wife so that the child is predisposed to resemble its parents. These factors limit the pool of potential donors.
Furthermore, many people are hesitant to serve as donors of genetic materials for a variety of reasons. As such, it is often both difficult and expensive to find a willing and appropriate egg donor.
Sometimes, a couple can find a suitable donor through their clinic, while other couples must use independent agencies to find their donors. This may vary by region; countries have different laws regarding these processes. Please contact your PUAH counselor for guidance.
- Emotional: People react to situations in different ways; this is part of what makes us human. Some women have no problems using donated eggs, while others cannot fathom any situation in which they would use them. Furthermore, some of the emotional issues will only surface after the procedure is done, after birth or even many years later. As such, it is important for the couple to undergo appropriate psychological and emotional counseling to ensure their (and their child's) mental well being.
- Legal: Each country (and in the USA – each state) has their own unique guidelines governing egg donation. In some countries, egg donation is not permitted under any circumstances, while in others it may be severely limited. As there are also differing regulations regarding the transfer of frozen embryos between countries (or states) an expert should always be consulted to determine legality of all potential aspects of the process.
- Financial: The costs of IVF are already expensive. Adding the costs of the donor, makes this an even more expensive procedure. Since egg donation procedures are extremely limited by law in many countries (such as Israel); the couple will often have to travel abroad for treatment, adding significant costs to the process. Even where the treatment is legal, it might not be covered by insurance. A couple considering this treatment should review their finances and identify ALL the anticipated costs in advance.
- Disclosure: Should we tell our child that he was born of egg donation? This question is the source of considerable debate among fertility professionals and psychologists. There are valid reasons on both sides of the argument. The PUAH Institute, in consultation with our experts and after reviewing the literature and data available, strongly advises couples not to disclose this information to the child. A couple who plans on not disclosing must limit the knowledge that they have used, will use or are even contemplating using egg donation to as few people as possible (including not telling their own parents and/or siblings). ANY person who knows this information might inadvertently reveal it to the child later in life.
- Anonymity of Donor: Often, couples wish to procure their own donor. Sometimes even from a family member. In addition to the halachic problems noted below, we recommend against this practice for several reasons. Mainly because of the issue of disclosure noted above. However, there could also be later repercussions between family members. Accordingly, we always recommend anonymous donation.
- Permissibility: As with many other areas of Jewish life, there are differing opinions as to the permissibility of the use of donor eggs. As such, a couple should turn to their Rabbi or a PUAH counselor to determine if the posek they identify with would allow this procedure.
In our discussion here, we will only review those opinions that allow egg donation and the differences among them about how it is allowed and who the donor can be.
- Defining Motherhood/Who is the best donor?: In discussing egg donation, there are 3 prevailing opinions as to who is identified as the halachic mother of the child. The birth mother, the donor or both. Each opinion leads us to a different solution for identifying the optimum egg donor.
The Birth Mother: According to this opinion, the child is Jewish regardless of the donor's religion.
The Donor: According to this opinion, the child is only Jewish if the donor is Jewish, regardless of the birth mother's religion. However, in this case, the husband will be fathering a child with the donor. Therefore, she must be a woman whom he can marry (ie: a single woman).
Both: According to this opinion, since there is a doubt as to the halachic definition of motherhood we need to be strict in all cases. Therefore, the child can only be considered Jewish if both the birth mother and the donor are Jewish. If only one of them is Jewish, the child must undergo a form of conversion. This form will eliminate all doubt as to his Jewish identity.
In order to satisfy all opinions, the optimum donor is a single Jewish woman. However, such a donor is not always available. Each couple should consult their Rabbi or a PUAH counselor to determine the best option for their specific circumstances.
- Halachic Supervision: As in all fertility treatments, halachic supervision is required in order to verify the halachic identity of ALL genetic materials involved. Even though it is a 3rd party donation, we need to ensure that the correct donor's eggs were used as well as the husband's sperm.
Despite the many challenges and issues faced when considering egg donation as a treatment option, many couples worldwide have successfully availed themselves of this technology. These couples come from all walks of Jewish life and all levels of religious observance. Egg donation is a viable option for those couples who have no other.