Once again, Oz leads the way

To loud cheers from donor conceived people around the world, the Law Reform Committee of the parliament of the State of Victoria in Australia has just produced its recommendations on access by donor conceived people to information about donors.  Essentially it has accepted the powerful case put by DC adults and others who gave evidence to the committee that it is wrong to deny identifying information about donors to offspring who had no choice about being conceived with the help of a gamete donor.  This particularly applies to those conceived prior to 1988 when Victoria was the first jurisdiction in the world to enact legislation regulating assisted reproductive procedures.  Victoria has led the way in forward thinking about the practice of donor conception and what it means for those people conceived as a result, and these recommendations are the latest challenge to other Australian states and the rest of the world to re-think their culture, laws and practices.

If the recommendations are accepted by the parliament, and the signs are that they will be, then identifying information about donors will become available to all donor conceived adults no matter which legislative era they were conceived in.  Because most early donors gave their gametes on the strict understanding that they would remain anonymous, it will be possible for these donors to place a veto on actual contact, although their details – if clinics still have them – will be given to offspring who ask for the information.  That’s how I understand it anyway, although how unofficial contact can be controlled if names are released, I really don’t know.

Parents of DC children in the UK will no doubt have mixed feelings about whether it would be right for similar retrospective legislation to occur here.  Many records from the pre HFEA register era have been destroyed so a large proportion of adults would be disappointed in their quest.  This is true for our own children.  I have what remains of my records from the clinic where I was inseminated, but they contain little of interest other than some cryptic numbers and letters which may or may not refer to the donor.  It seems that there were probably parallel donor files which were either destroyed or did not survive storeage when the clinic was closed down by the HFEA.

It is the August 1991 to April 2005 records held by the HFEA that could very easily be opened up to identifying information as offspring turn 18…just as these young people are now able to register to be in touch with half-siblings by mutual consent.

Where Australia leads, could the UK follow?

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About oliviasview

Co-founder and now Practice Consultant at Donor Conception Network. Mother to two donor conceived adults and a son conceived without help in my first marriage.
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6 Responses to Once again, Oz leads the way

  1. RachelP says:

    Am just reading the committee’s report now and as I understand it a contact veto would work by penalising any party that broke it, just like people who break restraining orders are penalised (i.e. they are dealt with by the police and the courts). It sounds great to me – as the report says, in the vast majority of cases contact vetoes are respected in the field of adoption, and most donors and DC people have no desire to intrude in each others’ lives, so there is every reason to believe it would work just as well in donor conception.

    Am crossing all my fingers and toes that we will ultimately adopt similar legislation in this country. Some older DC people might not be able to find anything but at least they’d get to look and exhaust every possible avenue in searching for their donor.

  2. RachelP says:

    The one thing that disappoints me is that the report recommends telling remain the responsibility of parents, even though it acknowledges most parents are not currently telling. This is just such an inconsistent position when you consider that it also says DC people have a fundamental human right to know about the mode of their conception. If it is a fundmental human right how is it ok to allow parents to deny it to their children? It says that finding out you are DC from a third party, e.g. a registrar of births or a birth certificate, is too traumatic. It’s not ideal but it’s sure better than the alternative – never knowing. I don’t know how anybody can think a situation in which not every DC person knows the truth about their conception is acceptable – quite apart from the human rights issue it puts DC people’s health at risk due to the possibility of accidental incest, something every DC person I’ve ever spoken to has worried about. It’s also very paternalistic and yet another example of decisions being made on behalf of DC people without consulting them, a practice that is criticised in other parts of the report. I found out about my DC status as an adult through a third party and whilst it wasn’t nice a.) I could handle it, coz I’m an adult, and b.) I’m glad I finally know the truth.

    • Emily says:

      Hi, Rachel,
      I absolutely agree that donor conceived people have the right to know about their origins, and that it is parents’ duty to tell, but in the real world, if a law is made saying they HAVE to tell, many will still chose not to, for whatever reason (usually convincing themselves it’s best for the children).
      I cant see how any law will actually make them tell, and I dont think that there should be the same process of assessment / screening & training for donor conception as there is for adoption, which basically excludes anyone who cant convince the assessors they will be open, so I think we need other ways to make sure it happens.
      I think having the information on public record would make more parents decide to tell, because they’d rather their children find out from them than realise they’ve lied.
      In the long run, the culture of shame & secrecy around fertility & donor conception will dwindle, and it wont be an issue anymore. But in the meantime, we have to find effective ways of encouraging & helping parents to tell. I think a formal record will help in this way.
      I dont think the record should be on any document that you might have to present as ID, because I think donor conceived people also have a right to privacy.

  3. oliviasview says:

    Thank you for your contributions Rachel. Always good points, even if I don’t always agree with them.

  4. As Rachel, I also found out as an adult through a third party and it wasn’t shocking at all – it made perfect sense right in that instant and I felt great relief. Family secrets, however well kept, have a way of weighing you down, even if you’re not privy to them.

    I’m angry that it was up to the good will of those who knew something fundamental about me to tell me or not.

    18-year-olds are no longer children and have the right to information about their origins. The people who raised them have plenty of time to tell them the truth before the official third party would.

  5. oliviasview says:

    Absolutely agree with you. As you probably know Pronoia, DC Network advocates that all donor conceived children are told about their origins from a very early age. We publish books for parents and story books for children to help with this process.

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