The Donor Who Dared To Say Don't

You wouldn't sell or give away your kids, would you? So don't donate your sperm!

Friday, January 26, 2007

 

If I Were You I Would...

Yesterday my wife and I arranged to meet with some friends in the park because it was a sunny Australia Day holiday and we hadn't caught up with them since before Christmas.

They are a couple in their early forties and they had brought with them a friend of theirs (let's call him P) who had just separated from his partner after 15 or so years.

So we got drinking and talking and as evening came on we moved to a local bar where, in addition, we got some eating done as well.

I don't quite know how it happened but somewhere in the middle of our conversations P announced that he was a former sperm donor and that in fact he knew my story quite well and, as a consequence, I had inspired him to register his name with our Infertility Treatment Authority as being a donor who would be amenable to being contacted by his children should they wish to find him (as I have also done).

He told me that he knew he had produced ten children in a total of nine families but this is all he knew and that he really didn't want to know any more than that. But the most surprising information he gave me was that he became a donor in 1988 which just happens to be the year when landmark legislation which governs infertility treatment in Victoria was first enacted.

One of the most contentious pieces of that legislation is that it gives donors the right to attempt to initiate contact with their child when that child reaches the age of majority which in our country is 18. Hence from the 1st of July last year it has been legally possible for donors in the 1988 cohort to approach the Infertility Treatment Authority to request that their child be informed of their existence.

The oft-cited problem with this arrangement has been that - as is well known and acknowledged - despite being counselled to do otherwise, only a very small percentage of donation recipients are prepared to inform their children of their donor-conceived status.

It has not been surprising, therefore, that in the last six months not one single donor-conceived adult from the 1988 cohort has approached the Authority to exercise their equal legislated right to access information about their donor. And the same applies to the donors who it seems, in the main, are just not interested or don't want to know about it.

So there I was sitting right next to someone who has all the power which I do not possess: the ability to seek out a lot more information about his children than I will ever be able to do (short of burglary!) and yet he professed no wish to do so even though he has never had children with
any of his partners.

I must say the urge for me to proselytise was overwhelming and had it not been for P's openness, intelligence and honesty I might well have become akin to a rabid prophet.

What could I say to this man who, as a 23 year old, had donated for pretty much the same naive and mercenary reasons I did and had swallowed lock stock and barrel the clinic's argument that really it was not much different from donating blood and besides he was giving childless couples the 'gift of life': all the usual altruistic rubbish.

So I levelled with him. I told him things that he probably didn't know: that he could at least request of the clinic that he be given non-identifying information regarding his children.
This will tell him their gender and what years they were born in and, if he is lucky, some brief details regarding the ethnic background, occupations and place of residence of the parents.

And I further told him, that armed with the knowledge of their birthdates, he would know precisely when those children turn 18 and will therefore be able to request to make contact with them when the time arises.

But getting him to realise, despite his reluctance to do so, that he has - from my perspective at least - a moral duty to announce his existence to his children was a pretty hard nut to crack.

This is not to say I don't respect his concern for the incredible impact this announcement might have on these children and the ramifications for their families but I cannot subscribe to the notion that "what they don't know won't hurt them" because in this instance it is precisely 'what they don't know' which is hurting them and their relationships with their parents whether they want to acknowledge it or not.

Ultimately, I am more inclined to assert that "the truth will set you free"; and I told P so.

This was one of the first times I had found myself having an in-depth conversation with a fellow donor about all these issues. It helped that he had obviously thought long and hard about his act of donating during the subsequent two decades since he did so.

All I could hope was that I was having some impact on him and might push him closer towards accepting that he is indeed the father of his donated children and has every right to assert that status despite what the law might say or what others might want to deny.

All the while he and I were talking my wife was having a somewhat more heated discussion with our female friend who needed a lot of convincing that donor conception is a bad idea until she was made to realise that DC people don't even have the same rights or are awarded the same openness about their origins as truly adopted people are.

My wife told me later that it was at this point where she finally won our friend over and that she also happened to notice that P, who was standing there at the time, turned away with tears in his eyes.

Later we went back to P's house and he knocked together a wonderful gourmet salad.

The evening concluded with much inebriation at 3 a.m.

When we said goodbye P and I gave each other a big hug because we are truly brothers now.

And he said that he will.

Comments:
Two things that strike me about last nights conversation:

1) Donors who donated after 1988 aren't aware that they have the right to access identifying information about their offspring. That means the ITA wasted money on an ineffective advertising campaign. They should have followed Michaels advice that they all be contacted personally by mail.

2) If people want donors to come forward a lot of work needs to be done towards making donors feel comfortable doing this. Right now everyone is happy to fob them off as being disinterested and unwilling. The truth is that many might be like P who has thought about his children long and deep over the 19 years since he donated and is reluctant to disrupt the family they were born into. I think this man yearns to meet his children and knows that he has suffered a great loss and was duped into believing that donating sperm was inconsequential.
 
Many thanks for the kind comment on my blog. I'd be quite happy for you to link to my blog.
 
EXCELLENT post as usual. Great job, Michael. It's great how you stand up for the moral responsibility of parents to their children. This responsibility is NATURAL and cannot be removed, because it comes with biology.
 
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