Monday, December 22, 2008

Reconcilliation with the Term "Donor"

For some time now whenever I see the term sperm donor it sends the hackles on my back up, that is it creates a very uneasy feeling. It is the term that society is familiar with when referring to those children born through donor conception via the use of another man's sperm.
However the term donor is far from the truth. It in no way represents actuality, and the cold hard facts are that he sold his sperm, he did not donate. To donate is to give freely without receiving anything in return. Yet if we are to peel back all the warm fuzzy connotations in regard to sperm donation we are able to see it for what it actually is. It is a transaction whereby sperm is procured from a man and money is exchanged. It makes no difference if this renumeration is for time or expenses occured in providing their sperm. Money has changed hands making it a financial transaction, thus making the biological father a sperm vendor.
No matter how pretty we dress up the facade, donor conceived children were sold.
The facade of altruism and being wanted so much by our parents has no bearing on the loss that can be felt within DC children. Whether that loss be minute or large, resulting from a lack of medical history or the severing of kinship and subsequent loss of identity, it is a form of loss. Any form of loss is a form of suffering and suffering is never the goal of altruism.
While it is impossible to change the terminology that society uses to describe these artificial reproductive techniques, I will always be the son of a sperm vendor.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Amendments to the Reproductive Technology Act (SA)

The state government here in South Australia has recently tabled some amendments to the Reproductive Technology Act 1988. After checking over the amendments it was plain to see that the welfare of donor offpsring still wasn't being looked after. I contacted a newspaper about this problem who ran a story (a bit diferent to the perspective I was trying to push - but that seems to happen). During my interview he managed to push me into writing to every state politician about the amendments, as this appeared in print as such I couldn't be seen to be a liar, so I spent some considerable time writing to all 65 members.
The letter does not address all of the amendments just those that affect current donor offspring.

Dear ...................................,

I am writing to you in regards to the tabled amendments to the Reproductive Technology (Clinical Practices) Act 1988 and in particular the effect that the amendments and existing legislation have on donor conceived offspring.

I am a donor conceived adult, the product of artificial insemination conducted at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in South Australia in 1973. I work as a medical researcher at the Women’s & Children’s Health Research Institute, I am married with a 5 year old daughter called Brydee and a 2 year old son called Angus.

The existing legislation states; “The welfare of any child to be born in consequence of an artificial fertilisation procedure must be treated as of paramount importance, and accepted as a fundamental principle.” While the amendments reiterate this; “The proposed bill will amend the Reproductive Technology (Clinical Practices) Act 1988 by ensuring that the 'best interests of the child' are of fundamental importance in the application of the act and in the provision of assisted reproductive treatment. However, neither the existing legislation nor the amendments achieve this goal. Instead the rights of the child are put secondary to the interests of others, thereby creating a class of second rate citizens that are being discriminated against based on their mode of conception. This discrimination also contravenes the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child.

Of particular relevance is Article 8 which is as follows:
Article 8.1; State Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

To which I stipulate that without knowing who my donor is, I do NOT know my identity, I do NOT know my nationality from a historical perspective, I do NOT know what my name should have been (as this is usually obtained from your father) and I was NOT consulted as to whether or not I would like to have access to these basic human rights – they were taken away from me.
It was decided before my conception which biological bond should remain important to me and which one is disposable. The whole precept of donor conception as opposed to adoption is that it is widely acknowledged the importance for one of the parents to be biologically related to the child. By removing the child’s right to know who the other parent is, is hypocritical in nature.

Article 8.2; Where a child is deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, State Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to speedily re-establishing his or her identity.

It is obvious that the state of South Australia in almost 40 years of widely practiced donor conception has done very little in fulfilling this article of the convention. I have been trying to establish my true identity for well over 16 years without any assistance by the state government and am no closer to achieving it.

Of particular concern in regard to our current legislation is that it acknowledges that the welfare of the child is paramount, but it also acknowledges that a donor can remain anonymous. These are two situations that are mutually exclusive. It is widely reported in internationally recognized publications that the best interests of the child are served by knowing who their donor is.

To know where one comes from is a basic human right and can sometimes be tantamount to the emotional welfare of the person involved. This basic human right has widely been acknowledged and given to those children that have been adopted. It has been shown that the ability to access this information is of utmost importance to the welfare of the child. Legislation allowing adopted children access to this information, while preventing those of the “Donated Generation” from doing the same is discrimination, pure and simple. These rights, as granted to adoptees was made retrospective even though relinquishing parents were promised anonymity. Which is exactly the same situation as found within donor conception. It is unfair and unjust to treat one group of individuals one way and another group differently. A precedent has also been set within the Reproductive Technology Act 1988, wherein clauses within it were made retrospective in regard to anonymity when for people like me there were no legislated guarantees when I was conceived. It is also precedented within the Family Relationships Act 1975 wherein the infertile husband of the wife receiving treatment was deemed within the law to be the father of the child and was also made retrospective. Both these examples show how I personally (and many others) have been disadvantaged by retrospective legislation in regard to our basic human right to know who our father is. So it would be incongruous to stipulate that retrospective access should not be given to the donated generation.

Due to NH&MRC guidelines and RTAC regulations, the current children born as a result of donations are able to access identifying information (upon maturity) about their donors. This in effects creates a disparity between offspring of various ages. My ability to know the identity of my father is being discriminated against because of my age. Age is a clearly defined anti-discriminatory clause in our legislation, yet it is allowed to happen to thousands of donor offspring.
The current situation for donor conceived people in regard to their birth certificates is that both the infertile and their fertile partner appear as both the biological parents. A birth certificate has always been used as a factual and truthful document showing the lineage of a person. For a donor conceived person that is clearly not the case, the document is untruthful and fraudulent. As the state assists with the process of donor conception and accepts the details as written, it is being complicit in creating fraud. There are numerous models that would facilitate all parties and show the conception status of the person.

More and more current research also shows that many of our traits and characteristics are not the product of the environment in which the child grows, but is a result of genetic inheritance (40% of our behaviour is inherited, Malouff J., University of New England, 2008). As a result, the knowledge of ones genetic background is paramount in finding out “who” we really are. Being able to access ones family health history has numerous health benefits to the individual as well as the state. This knowledge will equip offspring with the opportunity to prevent or ameliorate genetically inherited diseases such as chronic heart failure and diabetes which cost the state millions of dollars each year in treatment and hospitalization. As it is the states hospitals and health professionals are under increasing stress, by allowing donor offspring the chance of perhaps finding out their family health history will only help reduce this burden on the health system from both a physical and mental health perspective.

In a recent study presented at the American Society of Reproductive Medicine Conference, November 8-12 2008, in San Francisco by Patricia P. Mahlstedt, Ed.D., Kathleen LaBounty, B.A., William T. Kennedy, Ed.D., it was shown that of 85 adult donor conceived offspring interviewed worldwide that 87% believed that they should know the identity of their donor (accepted for publication in Sterility and Fertility in early 2009). In another study (yet to be published/presented, results transmitted to myself by one of the authors through personal communication), of 109 adult DC offspring 85% stated that they should know the identity of their donor. These studies show us quite clearly that offspring view the knowledge of their donor’s identity as being extremely important to them.

The tabled amendments also call for the disbanding of the South Australian Council for Reproductive Technologies which in my mind would be a mistake. With the exception of not including an expert that represents the best interests of all children born through these technologies, the council contains experts in all other fields of reproductive technology. By disbanding this council and putting these issues in the hands of a Health Advisory Council which would contain people that are more akin to jacks of all trades, masters of none, will severely hamper future progress.

For myself, the issues associated with being donor conceived only became cemented once I had children of my own. It was only when I was holding my babies in my arms, feeling those deep emotions that parents feel when their children are born that I was able to truly appreciate the importance of genetic kinship and in effect what was deprived of myself. That reality is as emotionally crushing today as it was years ago.

Thousands of donor offspring are being treated as second class citizens with inferior rights to everyone else. We do not asked to be treated differently or special, we just wish to be treated the same as everyone else, as human beings with dignity. As without these rights we have no dignity but are just lab rats in an experiment in social science.

I implore all parliamentary members to table their own amendments to ensure that donor offspring are treated with the compassion we deserve.

Yours Faithfully,
Damian Adams
“My daughter wants to know who her grandfather is and it breaks my heart that I cannot give him to her. The effects of anonymity and donor conception will not stop with me but will continue into future generations just as it does for adoptees.”