By Dory Ziperstein, LCSW, MPH

The search for an egg donor can be based on a variety of criteria: cultural or ethnic background, education, athletic, or artistic talent. Now there is a new tool for parents to search for their “perfect” match in an egg donor: facial recognition.

In July 2018, Ovobank, a Spain-based company, announced their new technology that allows intended parents to upload a selfie photo of themselves that are then matched via facial recognition software to photos of egg donors in their clinic database who have a close resemblance. The result: parents are presented with egg donors who resemble them in physical appearance.

How Donor Facial Recognition Works
According to the Ovobank website, this technology studies ~100 points on the face to find similarities between the two matches, including distance between the eyes, lip shape, and length of nose, and uses a mathematical facial recognition algorithm to provide potential match options to recipients. This technology option is not new, but this recent announcement begs the question, what is the impact of this ability and its role within egg donation?

Matching Based on Physical Attributes
Egg donation is an increasingly viable option for parents who want to start — or expand — their families. For intended parents, the ability to use this technology to find a donor who could more closely resemble them could be an incredible benefit. They are able to find a donor who resembles them and their family as much as possible, since they will never be able to find a clone. This facial recognition software allows parents to find donors who look like them through an objective process. Instead of parents (or agency coordinators) listing features/criteria, or judging themselves in a subjective manner, this software application does all the work by taking the input of the photo of the parents and outputting similar photos of donors. However, this process then prioritizes facial physical characteristics as the primary factor in choosing a donor, above other factors such as medical history, mental health history, donor interests/hobbies, or motivations for becoming a donor.

Anonymous Vs Known Egg Donation
Many parents are unaware that they can choose the level of contact they want to have with their egg donor. To me, there is no right or wrong type of donation. Parents should choose the right type of donation for them based on their level of comfort, considering the impact for their family. Some parents prefer anonymous donations where there is no contact between them and the egg donor. Other parents opt for a semi-known donation, where some demographic information is exchanged, and parents and donors can communicate in person, by phone, email, or Skype while still preserving their anonymity. Finally, some parents may choose to pursue known egg donation, which allows them to get to know their egg donor (in person, by phone, skype, or email) and opens the door for future communication between the egg donor, parents, and future children. Parents can decide what level of contact they want to have with their donor prior to, during, and after the donation.

At Circle Surrogacy & Egg Donation, we promote the benefits of known egg donation, as we believe it is important for a child’s healthy sense of identity to have access to the other half of their genetics, for them to understand where they come from and their story. Further, it allows parents and their children born via egg donation to remain updated about the egg donor’s medical history as it changes over time.

If parents have the ability to have a donor more closely resemble them, it may encourage parents – or egg donors – to choose anonymous egg donation. At this point in time, Ovobank only offers anonymous matches with donors in their egg bank program. If parents are able to match with a donor who resembles them more physically, will they be discouraged from disclosing the use of an egg donor with their future children? Also, as technology, social media, and DNA testing kits advance, anonymous matches as we consider them today may cease to exist.

Choose What’s Best For You
Egg donation is always changing, evolving, and growing. We will continue to see advances like facial recognition software impacting the process for parents, egg donors, and future children. Part of our role as an agency is to provide information and education to parents, so they can make decisions for their family, considering all the options available to them. There is no right or wrong path, this journey is emotional, challenging, and complicated, and parents are making the best decisions that they can for their families.

Dory Ziperstein is the Egg Donation Manager at Circle Surrogacy & Egg Donation. She is a graduate of Brandeis University (BA) and Boston University (MSW and MPH). In her spare time, she plays Ultimate Frisbee.

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