Australia’s precedent in examining donor conception policies

There is a national discussion starting in the Australian Parliament about how to regulate and legislate donor conception policies across federal and state lines.

They are looking into the consistency of policies for donations in the fertility industry, how data about donors and recipients is managed, and whether there are adequate counseling and support services offered for donors, recipients and offspring. They are exploring the number of offspring born from each donor, and the rights of donor-conceived individuals.

The founder of Australia’s Solo Mums by Choice has been in touch as she prepared her submission, and now that they have participated in Senate hearings.

I believe it is useful for all of us in the community, especially those who share in anonymous or open-identity donation, to be aware of governmental discussions about this topic. Australia, United Kingdom and Canada are much more developed in their conversations at a federal level than is the United States. So far in the U.S., these discussions have happened privately, but not yet within the walls of the U.S. Congress. The issues posed by donor conception are the same — as revealed here — although our laws addressing the issues are different, if they exist at all.

In the Solo Mums by Choice submission, they indicated that scholarly research and international policy guidance has led them to want to provide full disclosure to their children about their conception and genetic origins. And they listed many anecdotes of members who found that clinics who managed the donor programs were very inconsistent in their ability to set and maintain policy that was in the best interest of their children. Here’s some of what they wrote in their submission:

What do we want to see?

  • A national body and register that keeps track of donor’s current contact details, including imported donors from overseas, and if donors contact details change, the clinic should use all methods at their disposal to find them. This is imperative if legislated family limit numbers are to be adhered to in any way.
  • If no national body or register is to exist, then clinics should have mandatory guidelines regarding how they record and maintain donor data and how they should facilitate contact between donors and recipients and donors and donor-conceived children.
  • A national register that keeps track of children born from sperm donors.
  • A system such as the one in Victoria where contact between donors and sperm recipients and donor-conceived children is facilitated where there is a mutual desire to do so before donor conceived children turn 18, or 16, depending on State.
  • A central, voluntary Australian register of DNA.

They reported that New South Wales, South Australia and Western Australia in particular have clinics that have done a good job of keeping track of donors and facilitating early contact with donors and donor siblings where all parties have been agreeable. They also listed their preferences as an informed community in terms of counseling:

What do we want to see?

  • Counsellors should make further information available to recipients of donor products, such as information about on-line support groups/registers.
  • We would like consistent counselling services offered at the initial stages, to be followed through as the patient progresses. Follow up should be offered in the ensuing years if required. This could be an annual appointment for 5 years for both recipients and donors.
  • Fertility clinic’s websites should contain links to support groups available. These support groups should receive government funding.
  • All Assisted Reproductive Technology Bodies in all states to conduct regular “Talking and Telling” workshops. Mail outs to be done to all recipients and donors as well as public advertising to promote the workshops.

They also discussed the fact that, in open conversation within the community, it has been found that some sperm donors are not themselves limiting their contributions to the gene pool. Such as:

  • A sperm donor who is currently in his late 20s donated to a Sydney clinic and has since successfully donated to another four women privately. The donor also has four children of his own and has openly said that he will continue to donate without setting any limits on the number of families.
  • Another sperm donor who donates privately had around 27 offspring in 2008 and is still donating to families.

You can read more about the legislative hearings here.

A listing of some of the case studies gathered by members of Single Mums by Choice, of practices affecting their children, is accessible in PDF form below.

Members of Single Mums by Choice talked in a Senate hearing held in Sydney on November 2, 2010. The full discussion of those hearings is available here. The discussion with SMC Australia begins on page 45. Here is a partial transcript of that conversation:

Senator PRATT: What would be the ramifications of precluding access by single women to these services? Sometimes single parent head of families are often lumped together in terms of outcomes for children in those families. Would you comment on the fact that you are solo mums by choice as opposed to those who become single parents because of family breakdown.

Ms Fletcher-The ramifications would be that people would maybe go underground and use unscreened sperm. There would be a lot of grief for people who have perhaps had separations and divorces before they have been able to have children and, through no fault of their own, end up childless. They have not necessarily willingly decided to be single but that is the way life has gone for them. So I think it would cause a lot of grief for a lot of people and they may use other methods that are unsafe.

Ms Bailey-I would imagine that the rate of HIV would go up drastically. On that point, Fiona mentioned that the clinics would go out of business. I spoke to a sperm coordinator at one of the Queensland clinics about a year or two ago. I asked her, statistically, roughly how many SMCs-as we call ourselves-they had. In the breakdown of SMCs and lesbians to heterosexual couples, I was told that, if she had 100 women that month, 99 of them would have been SMCs or lesbians….People would find a way of creating families anyway. I do not think you can deny a woman’s maternal instinct. We are probably leaving it later in life to try to conceive but, if for that to happen we have to go underground, we would probably do it.

Mikki’s note: U.S. legislation of the donor industry is a topic I consider very important. For more about how donor conception issues are handled in the U.S., and recommendations I have gathered from donors, offspring and recipients, see this blog post.

I would love to hear from women in the United Kingdom and Canada about the laws in their countries. My own understanding, as written about in “Choosing Single Motherhood,” is out of date.



  2 comments for “Australia’s precedent in examining donor conception policies

  1. Fiona
    November 12, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    A quick update from Canada. As I’m sure at least some of you know, Canada is currently experiencing a legislative challenge by a donor conceived adult (Olivia Pratten, aged 28, conceived via anonymous donation) of the Adoption Act. She is demanding that donor conceived individuals have the same rights as adopted individuals to access their birth parents’ identities when they reach the age of majority. As far as I know, Pratten’s claim is the first of its kind in the world.

    If she’s successful, Canada may experience a retroactive opening of donor records. If nothing else, we’re likely to see prospective change, with a shift away from anonymity to open ID donors. Pratten wants it to be the law that only open ID donors are available. This is going to be a huge issue in Canada because we currently import most of our sperm from the US from banks that do not have such rules. There are only about 40 active donors in Canada at the moment so there would likely be an period of sperm shortage before the ranks are replenished by donors who are willing to be known.

    The existing law – the Assisted Human Reproduction Act – permits complete anonymity. However, the Act is currently being reviewed in a constitutional challenge (related to provincial rights, not content) by the Supreme Court of Canada and is in a kind of limbo. It’s not being enforced at the moment and may not survive this challenge. In which case, we’re back to square one.

  2. November 7, 2010 at 9:51 pm

    Thanks Mikki for the support. The Senate Committee is due to report on 24 November. Whatever the recommendations we’ll have to lobby to ensure changes are made.

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