Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Answers to some FAQs About Proposed Changes to Laws in Victoria

The following is reposted from the Are You Donor Conceived website, in which responses were written to some commonly asked questions regarding proposed amendments to the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act. These are not my words I am just reposting here for others who may be interested in changes that occurring around the world and some of the arguments that are being used to try and create change.

1. Donors were promised anonymity, isn’t it wrong to renege on that promise?
Early donor insemination practices were conducted in secrecy and varied according to clinic and jurisdiction. Some donors were given assurances that they would be anonymous, that they could not seek the identity of the recipient or any resulting child and signed consent forms with that undertaking. Others were told nothing and there is no documentation. Anonymity was a condition of donating as opposed to something that was necessarily actively sought. As times have progressed and donor-conceived people have grown, the effects of anonymity have become known. Many donors wonder about the children that they helped to create, children wonder about their donors, recipient parents seek information too. The removal of anonymity therefore is not about reneging on a promise, but rather showing that our understanding of what is important has grown and changed, and supporting openness and honesty for all parties.

2. But a contract is a contract right?
While ‘consent forms’ were signed by donors and recipient parents in which they agreed not to seek out the children or each other, the consent forms do not equate to legal contracts. In addition, such consent forms did not prevent children from seeking information, and could not bind them from doing so. In the instances in which donors were given assurances, either explicit or implied, any agreement that can be found to exist relates only to the donor, the provider clinic and the recipient undergoing treatment. There is also the issue of whether clinics or medical practitioners had any authority to promise or impose anonymity when from very early on there had been recognition that donor-conceived children would grow and might seek information. Any alleged ‘contract’ – if one could be found to exist-might therefore be declared void on grounds of public policy.

3. Doesn’t changing the law retrospectively create uncertainty?
No. The changes to the law would simply provide for a system that supports information release in a clear and explicit way. In the early days of donor-conception practice there was no law in Victoria providing that donors may be anonymous nor remain anonymous in perpetuity. In fact the 1983 Waller committee review of assisted reproductive treatment practices recommended that donors be advised that there can be no guarantee of permanent complete anonymity. Consequently when and where legislation has been introduced it has ended the practice of anonymous donations and enshrined the best interests of the donor conceived person as a guiding principle, providing them with the ability to access the identity of the donor once they reach maturity. A donors right to privacy (as distinct from anonymity) will be protected by a number of provisions, including statements of contact preference and mandatory counselling. The laws will therefore provide certainty for all, recognising the need for information, but balancing that with the ability to clearly state whether or not contact is wanted, and if so, the extent to which that might occur.

5. But this will be an invasion of a donor’s privacy?
The release of information about donors is seen as integral to providing donor conceived people certainty regarding their identity and biological parentage. A donor’s privacy will be protected by allowing him or her to place a contact preference stating the extent to which they would be willing to have contact with the donor-conceived person, if at all. Significant penalties will apply if that preference is breached.
In comparison, unexpected (and sometimes unwelcome) direct contact between immediate family members who may have been previously unaware of each other occurs daily in our community. These interactions take place without any legislated mediation and privacy protections, despite the fact that such contact could be embarrassing, personally disruptive and even result in court proceedings for estate claims or child support.
The second reading speech by Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessy when introducing the bill to parliament contains a brief discussion of this issue and can be accessed here:

6. What about claims on a donor’s estate or child support?
Laws which provide for the legal status of children (including donor conceived people) stipulate that donors have no rights or responsibilities in relation to the child. The person undergoing treatment with donor gametes and their partner (if applicable) are deemed to be the legal parent(s) of any child conceived as a result.
Note, the vast majority of donor conceived people who will be affected by the Victorian government’s proposed amendments are all well into adulthood, their motivations for seeking the identity of their biological parent stem from thoughtful and sensitive consideration of questions relating to their own identity and family heritage.

7. Shouldn’t donors be consulted about these changes?
They have been over a period of many years.
Most recently, in Victoria, on the 23 June 2010, the Victorian Parliamentary Law Reform Committee received the first terms of reference to conduct a public inquiry into access by donor-conceived people to information about donors. This committee tabled an interim report in September 2010. The inquiry was continued by the subsequent parliament and the final report was tabled on the 28th March 2012.
The parliamentary inquiry was well advertised and thorough. It received many submissions from stakeholders and organisations and was extensively publicised in the media. Following the final report the government requested that a special independent donor consultation be held to canvas the views of donors. This report was conducted by Monash University, School of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, Jean Hailes Research Unit and was given to the government in May 2013. It represented the views of 42 donors three quarters of whom were not opposed to the release of their identity even though they may have been promised anonymity.

8. Why is advertising the voluntary registers not sufficient?
The voluntary registers operate to facilitate information exchange and contact between donors, donor conceived people and other family members. They are advertised and should continue to be. They are an important service and (as the name suggests) operate by matching details entered voluntarily on the register. Currently there are 221 donors listed and 110 offspring.
Opponents of the proposed legislative amendments suggest that their preference would be to better advertise these registers. There are a number of issues with this proposal, fundamentally that it perpetuates the stigma of secrecy and shame, which is demeaning and damaging for donor conceived people and it does very little to change their position at the present time.
Capturing all of the anonymous donor cohort would require a broad spectrum, expensive advertising campaign. Even if you were able to make all of those donors aware of the voluntary registers existence, that awareness would not equate to a comparative level of active engagement with the registers. Perhaps because of an outright refusal of donors to make themselves known but more likely because an application requires thought and can be an emotional process and therefore is something that they might intend to do “one day”.
Practically this means that the donor conceived person relies on their donor not only seeing an advertisement but then acting on that information in a timely manner. The number of donor conceived people (and donors) who might benefit from this approach would be much less than those who will be empowered and assisted by the legislative amendments.

9. Are there any other reasons that support such legislation?
With the advent of DNA testing people are now able to discover the identity of genetic relatives due to extensive genealogical databases originally created by people researching their family history.
The legislation in fact would provide for protections of privacy in terms of ensuring only contact that is wanted in the case of donors and donor-conceived people may proceed, as a result of them being able to place ‘contact preferences’. At present, without such legislation, unexpected contact may occur, and people may not be supported via counselling services.

In addition, the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill represents a paradigm shift for donor conceived people. It recognises them as mature adults who should have the ability to access vital personal information concerning their own identity, family and medical history. It also recognises that donors are real people with names rather than shadowy coded figures, who are important and worth knowing, but provides them with essential protections if sought.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Where's the Beef?

It has come to my attention that there are some people who are under the assumption through some of the things I have written that I am against parents. Assumptions rarely provide good outcomes for intellectual discourse. Now I will assume that the people that wrote those comments didn’t actually mean I was against all parents otherwise I would of course be against myself (example of how an assumption can be absurd), so I will have to presume that they are referring to recipient parents of donor conception as that is the topic of debate that I have engaged in.
So let’s see, we have my parents; my biological mother and my non-biological father (my dad). Both amazing people that I love dearly. They were pioneers and told me of my origins in the 70s when all parents were being informed by the clinics to keep it a secret. No problem with them. In fact I have great admiration for them in not only raising me but also for the truthful and loving stance they took.
I know numerous other recipient parents. Some of which are very dear friends of mine. Additionally some of these people have been instrumental in creating not only public awareness of donor conception but have contributed enormously to creating meaningful change, not only here in Australia but also internationally. My hat goes off to these amazing people. No problem here either.
But maybe I have a problem with donors. I know lots of them too. Some of which are also phenomenal people that I am privileged to call friend. If these guys happened to be my father I would be honoured. No problem there either.
So without a clear problem with parents per se, then perhaps I need to set the record straight. There are good and bad parents whether it is through natural conceptions or through donor conceptions. Just because a child was wanted and the parents went through immense emotional trauma and financial hardship to have these children does not mean that it will always be a good outcome. This has been an assumption that far too many hold as dogma. I have heard far too many stories from other donor conceived who grew up in abusive households or who had narcissistic or troubled parents to know that this is not the case. But yes there are good outcomes too.
Indeed infertility can be a truly terrible thing to deal with, something that can be incredibly unfair, and one which we should all empathise with. However, we need to move away from the notion that having children is a right. There is no legislation or international convention that specifies adults have a right to a child. Rather it is what is termed a “freedom”. The freedom to procreate. This freedom has been removed cruelly from some people by Mother Nature.
My beef is with the system and also those that think anonymity is a good thing. Yes that can include some parents. It is against the thought that deception is a healthy foundation to raise a family. It is against the concept that children and gametes can be reduced to commodities that are available for those that can afford it. It is against the hypocrisy that one genetic link is valuable but the other disposable. It is against those that remove the child’s ability to know their next of kin, their heritage, and their family health history.
A quote from the famous ethicist Immanuel Kant that is from his categorical imperative, applies to donor conception
“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
In this context the donor conceived should not be treated as a means to an end. The end being the creation of a child for the family. Rather that they will grow up to be adults too with the same needs and emotions as others including yourself. If it is important for you to have a child that is genetically related to either you or the other person in the couple, then the other genetic relation (with the “donor” and other related kin) can be equally important to the donor conceived person if they see it that way.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Biological v Sociological

Many people mistakenly believe that I only support biological ties. This is not true. Both biological and sociological ties in families are important. What I am opposed to is the trivialisation of the biological connection and the over-emphasis by various people and groups that these biological connections do not matter and that love is all you need.
Firstly on the sociological aspect. I was raised by two different non-biologically related men in conjunction with my biological mother. My dad who raised me till I was 10 and a step-father who raised me there-after. I was indeed raised in a loving home and both these men were exceptional and I love them dearly. Could they have raised me better than my biological father, absolutely, that is a distinct possibility. Does that mean that it was perfect? It would seem not, otherwise myself and many others would not be advocating for change in the way donor conception is practiced.
But here is the hypocrisy. Donor conception exists because typically one parent wishes to have a biological connection with the child, rather than adopt or foster other children. Yet the other biological connection is deemed disposable. This is clear hypocrisy. You cannot decide on behalf of the child which biological connection will be important to them and which one should be erased. That is unethical.
In the wider society, if biological connection weren’t important then we wouldn’t have genealogy and we wouldn’t have popular TV shows like “Who do you think you are?” We wouldn’t have millions upon millions of people on sites such as or FamilyTreeDNA and 23andMe (the latter two both DNA genealogy testing companies). In Australia we wouldn’t have had national apologies to the Stolen Generation, Forced Adoptees and the Child Migrants, all of whom were separated from their kin. Doctors would not ask you what your family health history was. Ethnicity and culture would not be important to people. But these are indeed clearly important to people and society as a whole, just it is not allowed to be important to donor conceived people.
If biology was not important then every time a woman gives birth in hospital then they should not go home with the baby that she delivered but any baby from the nursery will do so long as they are healthy. After all biology doesn’t matter right and love is all that matters? They will love that child and that child will love them. So not a problem then? Yet you will not find one person who believes that this scenario is ethical or moral. It would very much be a massive problem and hence the hypocrisy. There are far too many people that are too fluid in their emotions and beliefs in when biology matters and just flip-flop on their stance.

In essence both biology and sociology do matter. But if you are going to have an opinion that is biased toward one side or the other then just don’t have a large dose of hypocrisy apparent in your opinions.

Monday, June 29, 2015

National Donor Conceived Persons Conference

A National Donor Conceived Persons Conference was held last weekend on the 27th June, 2015, in Melbourne, Australia.
In attendance was 49 adult donor conceived people from around Australia. This also included 3 DCP who flew across from New Zealand for the event. Additionally some Australian's flew back from Norway, USA, and Timor, making it a somewhat international event.
Several of these donor conceived people had never met another DC person before.
It was an emotional event with the sharing of stories and experiences, as well as the beautiful presentation of artwork and music relating to donor conception.
We had presentations on the use of DNA database testing, perspectives from donors, the state of the law in Australia, parallels between adoption and donor conception, as well as presentations by a Judge on children's rights, and by politicians on the changing face of the legislation in Victoria which will now give donor conceived people access to information on their biological father/mother (gamete donor) to bring it in line with what happens in adoption.
A thoroughly rewarding and eventful day, with many new friendships formed and old ones continuing.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

German Federal Court Reaffirms Donor Conceived's Right to Know