Children are being ignored while the media invests heavily in the adults' side of the IVF equation
THIS week as the debate over homosexual marriage hots up, a very important Senate committee report on donor conception practices was tabled which should have far-reaching effects on the issue.
However, "should have" is not the same as "would have". Aside from a couple of brief reports in the Fairfax press, the news media have been strangely silent on this report with its criticisms of the in-vitro fertilisation industry and the whole murky business of donor conception, and some powerful testimony of the often brutal effects on the children who are its products.
This lack of interest in the downside of the new biotechnological-produced family seems odd. Although the majority of these children are born into heterosexual partnerships where one partner is infertile, there have been a number of stories -- including a cover story in The Weekend Australian's Magazine earlier this year -- about lesbians happily having children who are "co-parented" as the fashionable gender-neutral terminology has it, without any intention of contact with the donor, or in the unfashionable, sex-specific father.
So, one might assume that with the amount of recent focus on the "gay" family, the problems of their donor-conceived offspring would command more attention.
But the media have heavily invested in the simplistic emotionalism and cheap moral utilitarianism of the adults' side of the equation. Now they are somewhat taken aback that those children whose human rights were never considered in the beginning of the great biotech revolution are starting to raise their heads.
Briefly, the Senate committee found that donor conception in Australia and the IVF industry that oversees much of it is surprisingly badly managed for something as important as the creation of new human life.
Indicative of the chaos is the disturbing fact that the committee could not even find out approximately how many of these children are in Australia.
The estimate of somewhere between 20,000 and 60,000 is ridiculously broad. It just doesn't know and it should because many of these children could be related.
The committee found that donor-conceived people may have up to 20 genetic half-siblings because there is nothing to stop donors donating multiple times and in a variety of places.
Hence the committee's recommendation that there be a four-family limit, especially now the ability of one donor to give gametes is unlimited.
The committee also reinforced the ban on payment for gametes. This has always been the case in Australia and Britain.
However there are loopholes in this, such as payment for "reasonable expenses", and it is a big enough loophole at the moment to allow some smart operators to act as sperm brokers.
But the most controversial of the committee's decisions was to recommend that, like adoptees, donor-conceived children should have the right to track their biological parents through a national register.
Setting up such a register will be difficult. Under the present ad hoc arrangements, as Senator Trish Crossin noted, there is a "quite appalling" lack of legislation in half of Australia's nine jurisdictions.
Tasmania, Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory have no laws at all regarding donor conception practices.
One woman said: "I cannot begin to describe how dehumanising and powerless I am to know that the name and details about my biological father and my entire paternal family sit somewhere in a filing cabinet . . . with no means to access it.
"Information about my own family, my roots, my identity, I am told I have no right to know."
The committee made controversial observations which will probably meet stiff resistance from the IVF industry.
It noted that the accreditation process for IVF clinics seems to have broken down and is not transparent. It calls for national regulation and suggests that an ombudsman may be needed.
The importation of sperm -- which has already become a cottage industry -- should be banned.
In fact, the kind of resistance Australia can expect to the regulation of these practices has already begun in Britain where, due to a decline in the numbers donating, there is even a movement, backed by the IVF industry, to introduce anonymity.
Prospective parents place great weight on donor anonymity. The majority of donor-origin children born into heterosexual families do not know of their origins. Most parents pretend that the biological origins of the child don't matter.
That is understandable; it must be very difficult to give birth to a child within a family where the father has the usual emotional and psychological input and then possibly run the risk of damaging that bond with the revelation that half the child's physical self, its other 23 chromosomes, really came from someone else.
But it is amazing how many such children feel that something is not quite right.
On such person is Alana S., a 24-year-old writer and musician from San Francisco who has launched a website called anonymousus.org.
She is the child of an anonymous sperm donor and she is inviting parents and children to contribute their stories, positive and negative.
This forum is a first. There are many forums where IVF mums can swap stories about their pregnancies, online discussions on how to get sperm and inseminate oneself (complete with e-hand-books), but until now there have been none about the children born from these techniques.
Why? Well one reason is that for the past 20 years the biotech industry has conspired with the "new family" agenda underscored by manipulative emotionalism beloved of the media, to create the dubious notion of a right to a child, and suppress the rights of the child, even the obvious right to a mother and a father.
Nevertheless, most of today's donor-conceived young adults not only want a mother and a father, but the right to the knowledge of those other 23 chromosomes, their genetic forebears.
Once nurture was considered everything for children and nature was given very little credit.
Now through genetics we are beginning to understand the fundamental pull of our physical nature and what binds most of us to our parents.
But this issue should not be turned into an emotional contest. The most important people in this are not the parents -- neither the genetic nor the birth parents -- and certainly not the IVF industry. The important people are those that no one thought much about in the beginning: the children.
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