“They were my eggs; they were her babies”: known oocyte donors’ conceptualizations of their reproductive material.

Blyth E, Yee S, Ka Tat Tsang A (2011);33(1):1134-1140

This is a qualitative study from Canada on the views of oocyte donors and recipients towards their reproductive material. The aim of the study was to establish the donors’ conceptualisation of their donated oocytes as well as embryos and how these perceptions may affect their experiences and decision-making. It is worth mentioning here that, in Canada, neither egg sharing nor commercial procurement of gametes is legally permitted; therefore oocyte donation is heavily dependent on altruistic known donation.

The women were recruited from a single urban hospital IVF clinic; 15 donors and 18 recipients, who had participated in the donation programme in the last ten years, were invited to a semi-structured face-to-face or telephone interview. Unfortunately, the authors did not include in the publication any of the questions asked, and, even though, it is clearly indicated that the transcripts were analysed by coding recurrent themes, these were not mentioned.

In the results section, two clear tables on the age of participants at the time of donation and the interval from donation to interview are included. However, the researchers did not establish whether the subjects that eventually agreed to participate in the study had a positive outcome from the programme, as this would significantly alter their perceptions and, ultimately the results of the study. The results section is divided into three parts; conceptualisation of oocytes in known donation, in anonymous donation and conceptualisation of embryos and anonymised interview extracts are included to support the conclusions. In summary, the donors appear disengaged from their reproductive material and distant to any children resulting from the donation, but they were unwilling to consider donation to an unknown recipient. Similar results were observed with the enbryos. Interestingly, recipients appeared willing to respect the donors’ preference about decision-making regarding the disposition of unused embryos.

The main disadvantages of the study, namely unknown outcome, cross-sectional approach and retrospective review, are explored further in the discussion section. The authors conclude that more information and support should be available to both parties, while legal rights and ownership should be clarified at the outset of any process. It is worth bearing in mind that the study results are more relevant to countries with a specific legal status quo. In addition, the small number of subjects and the lack of reproducibility limit the value of the results. Clearly, the question of conceptualisation of genetic material remains unanswered and further large prospective studies are needed.