Two women in Japan have received eggs from donors who are strangers — the first time this has happened in the country — following approval by an ethics committee earlier this year.
Before now, 24 babies had been born through egg donation in Japan, but all the donors were either relatives or friends of the recipients.
Both recipients are in their 30s and have gone through premature menopause. The donors are also in their 30s and both have had children; they were not paid. The eggs were fertilised with sperm from the recipients' husbands, and the embryos have been frozen while the donors are monitored for infectious diseases.
The donations were organised through the Kobe-based non-profit organisation OD-Net (Oocyte Donation Network), which began soliciting for egg donors in January 2013. It matched 23 couples to donors, but many dropped out as a result of the conditions set by OD-Net, according to the Japan News. Eight of the couples are moving forward with the IVF process using the donor eggs.
The ethics committee of the Japanese Institution for Standardising Assisted Reproductive Technology gave the go ahead for the egg donations in April. Any children born as a result of the egg donation must be notified of this fact before they enter elementary school. When they reach the age of 15, they may find out the identity of the donors, if they choose to.
Children born in Japan as a result of a sperm donation are currently unable to learn the identity of the donor.
Sachiko Kishimoto, the head of OD-Net, told the Japan Times: 'There are mixed reactions to in vitro fertilisation (IVF) involving people other than a married couple, but I want people to know there are many couples wishing [to undergo the treatment]. We want [the government] to swiftly prepare laws, thinking about people who are donating eggs without being paid and without compensation.'
Jiro Nudeshima, a bioethicist at the Tokyo Foundation, said he also hopes this will push the authorities to create better legislation in this area, according to the Japan Times. 'If a problem arises, leaving it to those involved to solve it is just irresponsible. Asking a third person to donate eggs without sufficient legislation in place would mean that the child born from these cases will lack a stable legal status and that the rights of the child or the donor may not be protected.'
A policy body of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in Japan approved a draft bill in June stating that when children are born through surrogacy or via IVF using eggs donated by strangers, the woman who delivers the baby will legally be its mother. But in those cases where a child is born through IVF using a sperm donor, the husband will legally be its father.
The bill has not yet been passed by the Japanese Parliament.