Wednesday 28 March 2012
Justice at Last for Donor-Conceived Victorians
The final report of the Law Reform Committee of the Parliament of Victoria’s inquiry into access by donor-conceived people to information about donors has recommended changes to the law to enable all donor-conceived Victorians to apply for information about their genetic identity regardless of when they were born – a world first.
The issue was referred to the Law Reform Committee in the wake of the passage of the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act in 2008. The inquiry was prompted by concerns raised by donor-conceived people about the impact on their day-to-day lives of the law that denies them basic information about their medical, social and cultural backgrounds as they shared their stories of grief and loss from being denied knowledge of their full identity.
“I am overwhelmed that donor-conceived people will finally have the chance to know who they are. It has been such a long and tiresome struggle for many, but there is now hope that this has not all been in vain. I commend the committee for their dedication with respect to this issue,” says Kimberley Turner, a 28 year old donor-conceived person. “They truly listened to those involved, and recognised the imperative need for change. I cannot thank them enough for standing up for what is right and just. I look forward to discovering the missing pieces of myself and my heritage, and to passing this on to my own children.”
“I am so relieved and happy that the committee has recommended a change to the cruel laws which denied people like me who were born before the arbitrary date of 1988 the right to information, even though it was recognised that people born after 1988 should have it,” says Lauren Burns, a 28 year old donor-conceived person. “Before this inquiry we had no rights and faced a bureaucratic black hole if we wanted to know where we came from. It was horrible being treated as a second class citizen.”
The overwhelming majority of public submissions to the inquiry supported the removal of secrecy provisions. In the course of extensive public hearings the committee heard from donor-conceived people, donors, parents of donor-conceived people, counsellors and doctors. Contrary to popular opinion, testimony showed that many donors care about the wellbeing of the people they helped create and are willing to provide information. Donors currently outnumber donor-conceived people on the pre-1988 voluntary register set up to facilitate mutually desired contact, which is administered by Births Deaths and Marriages.
“This issue is about people. The donors who, by making their sperm or eggs available to help others, have created lives and the people who have been born from the donations of sperm and eggs. As a sperm donor from the mid 1980’s I welcome the recommendations of this inquiry – which recognise the fundamental human rights of donor-conceived people to have access to information about their biological parents and their genetic and familial heritage. It is true that as sperm donors 25 years ago we were promised anonymity. However, the interests of the donor-conceived people should, in my view be paramount. I support changes to legislation and practice which will enable donor-conceived people to have knowledge of their genetic heritage. I believe that can and should be achieved in such a way as to best respect the rights of all parties concerned,” says Ian Smith, a sperm donor from Prince Henry’s Hospital.
Myfanwy Cummerford, a 31 year old donor-conceived person welcomed the changes. “We’ve fought for so long for something that most people can take for granted. The ability to answer the most basic questions – Who am I? Where do I come from? We are the only group of people in Australia discriminated against on the basis of how we were conceived and when we were born. This is a human rights issue and I cannot thank the Law Reform committee enough for not only listening to us but having the guts to take action and recommend these changes.”
Currently donor-conceived people born prior to 1988 have no mechanism to directly apply for information about their biological identity. The recommendations of the committee will bring the rights of donor-conceived people born prior to 1988 into line with adopted people, who received the right to apply for information about their biological parents in 1984. Back then Victoria led the world by reforming adoption law, changes which were systematically replicated in subsequent adoption law reform both in Australia and internationally.
“I’ve been waiting for this day for 15 years and I am so thrilled that the Law Reform Committee has truly listened to the voice of the donor-conceived person. We are elated that these recommendations finally afford us the ability to be treated as equal citizens of our community with the recognition of the truth, which is rightfully ours,” says 29 year old donor-conceived woman Narelle Grech.
TangledWebs urges the Victorian government to legislate the recommendations of the Law Reform Committee as soon as possible, in recognition of the lengthy time that pre-1988 donor-conceived Victorians have waited their turn for equality and justice.
TangledWebs also implores past donors to register their details on the voluntary register because in some cases where records have been lost or destroyed this will be the only way information can be shared. Donors can lodge their details on the voluntary register by contacting the Victorian Registry of Births Deaths Marriages (www.bdm.vic.gov.au) or they can discuss their options further by contacting the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (www.varta.org.au).