Sperm donors should all be identified, says Victorian committee

The Australian state of Victoria, the first in the world to pass a law on assisted reproduction, may pass retrospective legislation to give all donor-conceived people access to information about their donors.

The Victorian Parliament’s Law Reform Committee this week issued a major report with a number of recommendations and some valuable background about the history of the industry. As it now stands, people conceived during and after 1998 have unconditional access to identifying information. People conceived between 1988 and 1997 can access information if the donor agrees. But people conceived before 1988 have no rights at all.

It was in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, that the world’s third IVF baby was born in 1980. The IVF industry grew rapidly – but it now appears that it was shockingly unprepared for dealing with the rights of the donor-conceived children.

According to the report, record-keeping before 1988 was chaotic and incomplete. “It is likely that thousands of children were born through sperm donation during this period, and that there were around 500 donors,” it says. A culture of secrecy prevailed and most children in those years were never told of their origins.

“while there are likely thousands of donor-conceived people who may potentially be affected by any change to legislation, it is probable that only a fraction of these people are actually aware that they are donor-conceived.”

Now, however, after many years of lobbying by donor-conceived people, attitudes have changed. The chair of the committee, Mr Clem Newton-Brown, said that the rights of the child trumped the rights of a donor:

“While the Committee recognises that donors who donated their gametes before 1988 did so  on the basis of anonymity, the Committee considers that donor-conceived people have a right to know the identity of the person who contributed half of their biological makeup. The Committee is convinced that this right must be given precedence, even over the wishes of those donors who would like to remain anonymous.”  

However, if the recommendations of the committee are accepted, donors will still be able to decline a request for personal contact. There will probably be a public consultation before legislation is passed.

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