Ethics of oocyte banking for thirdparty assisted reproduction: A systematic review

E M Kool, A M E Bos, R van der Graaf, B C J M Fauser, A L Bredenoord

Published: 01/01/2018


Background: The demand for donor oocytes has increased dramatically over the years. Today people in need of ART with the use of donor oocytes can appeal to commercial or public donor oocyte banks. The introduction of oocyte banks has shed a new light on the practice of ART using donor oocytes. The establishment and maintenance of oocyte banks should be sensitive to the ethical considerations. However, it is currently unclear which ethical aspects have to be taken into account.

Objective and rationale: The aim of this article is to identify the ethical aspects of establishing and maintaining oocyte banks for third-party ART.

Search methods: A systematic search was performed in July 2016 and February 2017 in both PubMed and Embase using a search string that combined synonyms for oocytes, donation or banking, reproductive care and ethics. We included a wide variety of English-language articles with a reasoned description of ethical aspects or moral considerations on oocyte donation or banking for third-party ART.

Outcomes: The practice of oocyte banking consists of three components, namely, the intake, storage and distribution of donor oocytes, and each is associated with multiple ethical challenges. The majority of the literature discusses ethical aspects with regard to the intake of donor oocytes, taking into account both the interests of the donor and those of the potential child. Ethical aspects related to the donor are the risks and psychosocial impact of donation, motivations and compensation in donor recruitment, and requirements for informed consent. Ethical aspects related to the potential child are 2-fold: first, the welfare standard and the selection of donors, and second, anonymity and disclosure. Ethical aspects of storing donor oocytes for ART are quality standards, confidentiality, issues of ownership and control, and international transport of donor oocytes. Ethical aspects of the distribution of donor oocytes concern the selection of recipients and the acceptability of treatment of ‘non-traditional’ families in particular, prioritization of recipients in case of scarcity, cross-border reproductive care, matching of recipients and donor oocytes, informed consent and counselling for recipients.

Wider implications: Our review demonstrates that multiple ethical aspects have to be taken into account when establishing and maintaining an oocyte bank. Yet, for many of these aspects there is no consensus regarding what approach should be employed. Remarkably, the existing literature focuses mainly on ethical aspects related to the intake of donor oocytes, while aspects related to storage and distribution of donor oocytes are less often addressed. An important gap in the existing literature should therefore be acknowledged. To conclude, our findings can serve as a starting point for clinicians in the field of ART, to conceptualize what challenges arise when establishing and maintaining oocyte banks for third-party ART. The review may also stimulate policy makers to set up a trustworthy and adaptive governance structure for the intake, storage and distribution of donor oocytes.

Full Access Link: Human Reproduction Update