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!

Saturday, February 16, 2008



Fertile ground for doubt

Sian Powell | February 16, 2008 [THE AGE - MELBOURNE - AUSTRALIA]

MYFANWY Walker objects to the way she was created: sperm donation.

She has given speeches explaining why she has grave doubts about the increasingly popular procedure of sperm and egg-donor conception.

"It's the whole reason I exist, so it's difficult for me to say I have a problem with this, but I think I have the right, and I think my arguments are valid," she says. "I see my friends being hurt by this."

She was one of a group of like-minded agitators who have met legislators and lawyers in Victoria, where the assisted reproduction technology legislation is due for amendment in the coming months. She has come to understand the new legislation will probably take in many of the Victorian Law Reform Commission's recommendations, broadening the scope for assisted reproduction, including donor conception.

Walker is appalled, but many MPs, women's groups and activists think it's about time Victoria relaxed the draconian restrictions on who can use fertility technology.

Walker doesn't agree with the discrimination - rather for the children's sake, she thinks gamete donation should be generally restricted, regardless of the recipient's married state or sexual orientation.

When she was 20, she discovered she was not the genetic product of both her parents. She decided to find her biological father, and in 2001 she told The Australian about her search.

She had very limited information about the donor; she had discovered he was a 26-year-old married university student with a three-year-old child and a week-old baby when he donated sperm in 1977. He had fair skin and blue eyes, his blood was A-positive and his donor tag was CP.

Michael Linden read the article, recognised himself and made contact. He and Walker have now established a friendship. Yet even though Walker has found her biological father, and filled in some of the gaps in her life, she has taken a principled stand against donor conception.

Almost 27, a graphic designer who will begin a law degree next month, she is an extremely thoughtful and intelligent nay-sayer. She says there is a range of reasons why the practice of donor conception is riddled with difficulties.

Even if donor-conceived children (as they are known) have some form of relationship with the donor, it obviously falls far short of a loving parental relationship. And Walker warns that in many cases, the donors simply can't be located.

These days, assisted reproduction is largely governed by guidelines that compel donors to waive anonymity once the offspring reaches adulthood. The guidelines of the federal research funding body, the National Health and Medical Research Council, make it clear that donors have to agree to be identified to the children, and if fertility clinics breach the guidelines their accreditation can be withdrawn. In Victoria, it is a matter of staying within the law.

But Walker warns that contact is by no means guaranteed: the information is not kept up to date, 18 years is a long time, and the donors may change their names, leave the country, or even actively evade the offspring.

The UN Convention on the Rights of a Child, she says, declares that children have a right to their identity: that identity can be fully or partly compromised when one parent is a donor, and probably anonymous for the first 18 years of the child's life.

"The child does not really know who they are," she says. "I know lots of facts about Michael, but I can't really 'know' him until I have a relationship with him."

Walker's stand against donor conception does not mean that she gets on badly with her genetic father, or that she is sorry they made contact: she is very happy she has found her genetic heritage and she is fond of Linden. "But there was a massive amount of loss there for me," she says. "There were 20 years I could never reclaim, coupled with the realisation that I could never have the genetic relationship with my own dad. My feelings about donor conception are quite different to the feelings I have about Michael. But some donor-conceived people have really horrible experiences."

They might be unable to find the donors, or appalled when they do find them. Walker says there's a growing feeling now that openness and transparency is the cure-all; if a child is told from very early age that one genetic parent is a donor, it should lessen the chance for psychological damage. But Walker says surveys have found most parents of donor-conceived children are reluctant to tell them exactly where they came from. The requirements only stipulate the donors agree to be identified when offspring turn 18.

She has been pushing for the Victorian law to include a requirement that donor status is listed on birth certificates: so far with little success. She is also one of many concerned citizens pushing for a conscience vote on any new reproduction law, again, so far without any success.

She is up against a solid phalanx of frustrated women, lawyers, politicians and medical professionals on other side of the assisted reproduction divide, all of them intent on easing the Victorian law and bringing it into line with the rest of Australia.

Melbourne solicitor Carmen Currie has been involved in a number of assisted reproduction cases, and she has written a paper on ART legislation titled Regulating Baby Making - Is Legislation an Appropriate Instrument for Regulating Assisted Reproductive Technologies?. She says the Victorian law is "arguably the most prescriptive of its kind in the world".

She would like to see it repealed, or substantially watered down, and the various ethical issues arising Victorian fertility clinics governed by the NHMRC guidelines, as they are everywhere else in Australia, at least for the time being.

Among other things the guidelines state (in a stipulation first introduced in 2004): "Persons conceived using ART procedures are entitled to know their genetic parents. Clinics must not use donated gametes in reproductive procedures unless the donor has consented to the release of identifying information about himself or herself to the persons conceived using his or her gametes."

These guidelines came too late for Walker: there were no such requirements when her genetic father donated his sperm. Many of her friends from the donor-conceived community are still searching fruitlessly for their genetic parents.

Four Australian states - Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria and NSW - have assisted reproduction legislation in place, although the NSW law won't be implemented until the end of this year. Yet, by and large, the law in these states doesn't seek to prescribe who can and who cannot access reproductive technology, and the NRHMRC guidelines prevail, including the requirement for a donor anonymity waiver.

Currie points out that a moral code is embedded in the Victorian reproduction law, which strikes her as out of step with other laws. The law doesn't forbid unmarried people from having sex, so why should it prevent single women from using ART?

The Victorian law limited assisted reproduction to married couples until the stipulation was struck down by the Federal Court in 2000 citing anti-discrimination legislation. But the law is still restrictive. It says: "A doctor must be satisfied ... the woman is unlikely to become pregnant from an oocyte (female germ cell) produced by her and sperm produced by her husband other than by a treatment procedure." This is the foundation of a rigid policy used by fertility clinics to refuse anyone other than clinically infertile women, and excluding lesbians and single women. Many of these marginalised women prefer to travel interstate for treatment.

"Other states have laws regulating fertility treatment, but Victoria's laws have historically been by far the most restrictive in terms of the sort of personal criteria you need to satisfy to even get in the door of the clinic," Currie says. "The Victorian laws are concerned with who should or shouldn't be allowed to be a parent than simply regulating the technology, and there is a real question about whether that should be an appropriate focus for the law."

There are still enormous hurdles barring single women and lesbians from Victorian clinics, hurdles which are non-existent in other states, she says.

The technology has always outpaced the legislators. Even as Victorian legislators muse on how to shape a new assisted reproduction law, scientists in Britain announced earlier this month that they had created in-vitro fertilisation embryos with DNA from three parents. Legislators may think they can get round the problem of accelerating technology by fostering ever-more prescriptive and detailed laws, but Currie warns this approach is likely to push more and more cases into the arms of lawyers and the courts. It would be better to keep any laws general, with enough flexibility to permit clinics' ethics committees to resolve issues on a case-by-case basis.

In NSW, the assisted reproduction Act will come into force at the end of this year, and it is regarded with some consternation by fertility clinics. They fear the requirement to lodge donor-identifying information with the NSW Health Department, rather than simply keeping the information themselves, will deter potential donors. In reality, the NSW law will be far less prescriptive than the Victorian equivalent, simply because it does not stipulate eligibility criteria. Single women, lesbians and married women are treated equally, and unlike in Victoria, it isn't necessary to get consent from the spouse of a donor.

Walker says these debates are all very well, but they are entirely missing the point: that gamete donation is likely to be damaging for the child it produces, no matter how it is handled or who is eligible for it.

The Victorian Law Reform Commission's review of the Victorian legislation missed the point, she says. "No one asked, is this a good thing? Is there anything bad about it? It was just legislated. I suppose the feeling was that it was happening anyway."

She believes the Victorian parliamentarians will adopt almost all of the recommendations, effectively rubber-stamping an extremely significant loosening of the laws. "I have spoken with some of the MPs," she says. "Their scope is more about eligibility and access. We had meetings with them. They said 'it's not in our scope, it's not what we've looked at'."

"Basically my problem is with the ethics of the practice. It doesn't protect the rights of the child. Once people understand the issues they probably wouldn't choose to conceive via donor. And also once the Government is aware of the issues I think they will inevitably either legislate against it or strictly govern its practice, that is, treat it as an adoption."

ART is seen as a medical treatment for adults, and regarded almost entirely from the adult donors' and recipients' point of view. But it produces flesh and blood children.

"It should be a question of whether it's in the interests of the child," she says. "You can't negate that, you really can't."


Its Michael right?
Your blog is so great and informative.

Thank you for it.
Your story on Tangled Webs is... powerful.
You're a wonderful writer and a thoughtful man.
Thanks Rachel for your comments. this is the first time I've checked my blog for a long time - been too tied up with my business which I've sold now. Glad people are still reading it and getting information and inspiration. Not sure if I'll continue this particular blog but might resuscitate the dadi one. best wishes, michael
Hmmm....just noticed on your blog that you have been an egg donor 2 years ago. How are you faring with that decision? Email me if you like.
Hey there, first of all thank you so much for this post and honestly I was searching for the same information from last few days. Keep posting and keep sharing. .

Egg Donation
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