Monday, 22 February 2010
Donor Conception Support Group of Australia
Today the parliament was visited by members of the Donor Conception Support Group of Australia. I have recently become the patron of this organisation and pass on the sincere thanks of the Donor Conception Support Group to my colleagues who attended the presentation they gave. Particular thanks should go to Senator Trish Crossin, who arranged the briefing and facilitated the event.
Members and senators from across the political spectrum attended and had many questions to ask the presenters, who ranged from being IVF children who are now adults to IVF parents and sperm donors.
The Donor Conception Support Group provides support for: (1) people considering using donor conception; (2) people undergoing treatment; (3) parents of donor offspring; and, (4) donor-conceived people. Representatives came to parliament today to officially present a petition calling for an inquiry into donor conception practices. The group are also trying to achieve a national register, and I hope in the short time I have that I will be able to convey their argument with a clarity that does them justice.
The group were represented by four donor parents, one donor and two donor-conceived persons. Each had their own reasons for being here today and I want to read out some of their comments so that the House can hear their stories and consider their arguments.
Damien Adams, who was a donor-conceived child, said:
After having children of my own I came to realise what my conception had truly deprived me of. I had lost my kinship, my heritage, my identity and my health history. This realisation was crushing, depressing and immensely painful.
Geraldine Hewitt, another IVF child, and daughter of Leonie, said:
My biological father; my donor—his donor code is JAX. In 1982, he began donating to the Royal Hospital for Women in Paddington, Sydney. He continued to do so for the next three years. During the course of his association with the hospital, four babies were born; 1 boy and 3 girls. I am one of those babies. All of us were born in 1983. I have no further information about my half-siblings. We all turn 27 this year.
From what remains of our donor’s records, I can tell you that he was blonde, blue eyed, five foot eight, Caucasian and had 0 positive blood, The hospital social worker once made an offhanded remark that he had a very unusual surname. That’s about all that remains, in terms of information, that could identify him. They made sure to destroy his date of birth, his first name and his contact details at the time of donation.
Leonie Hewitt, an IVF parent said:
We discovered a few years ago that our son’s donor had donated to two different clinics in two different states. Kerion my son has a total of 29 half siblings that we know of. A national register should be able to prevent this happening again.
The quotes I have just read highlight a number of concerns. Firstly, and most importantly, the people I met today believe in the right of every person to know who their biological family is. As Senator Murray pointed out back in 2003, this is supported by United Nations conventions. Article 8.1 of the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which Australia is a signatory, states:
States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
Article 8.2 goes on to say:
Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to re-establishing speedily his or her identity.
This need was acknowledged by this government back in November during the apology to the forgotten Australians when it granted funding to CLAN to help forgotten Australians retrace their family trees.
The Donor Conception Support Group would argue that this should also extend to their members, and it is this belief that is behind their call to establish a national register so that offspring can find the pathway back to their biological parents. The idea of a national register needs an inquiry—either a House of Representatives or a Senate inquiry. Considering the electoral cycle I would suggest that a Senate inquiry would be more practical.
Secondly, the people I met today believe that the current system is dangerously unregulated. From what I have heard there appears to be very little overall accountability for the donation industry as a whole. The group believe it is this lack of regulation that can lead to incidences like that described by Leonie, who found out her son has a total of 29 half siblings conceived across two states. With sperm donors from across the world there needs to be better regulation.
In closing, IVF children have the right to know their medical backgrounds, they have the right to know who their siblings are and they should have the right to contact their donor parent. The support group tells me that only five per cent of donors have been hesitant about a register, and for reasons that can be overcome. This argument will rage and the emotions will run strongly on this issue, but I personally support this register and call on the government to at least get an inquiry underway.