06 July 2015
ByAppeared in BioNews 809
The Australian state of Victoria has revealed plans to extend rules removing donor anonymity to allow all donor-conceived people access to identifying information about their sperm or egg donor, irrespective of the donor's consent or when they donated.
Currently, donor-conceived people over the age of 18 in the state have access to their donor's name, date of birth and ethnic origin, but access is subject to the date their gametes were donated, leading to what Health Minister Jill Hennessy has described as decades of inequality 'based simply on arbitrary time frames'.
People conceived from donations made after 1998 currently have unconditional access to identifying information about their donor. However, people born from donations made between 1988 and 1998 can only access identifying information if their donor consents. The provision was extended recently to cover those born before 1988, who previously had no access to identifying information.
Outlining the need for reform, the Victorian Government said in a discussion paper: 'While these changes are significant, they do not address the inequality between donor-conceived Victorians. They still limit some donor-conceived people's access to information about their identity depending on when their gametes were donated. The Andrews Labor Government will legislate so that all donor-conceived people will have the same rights to access donor information regardless of when their gametes were donated.'
The new proposals allow for the release of identifying information in a controlled and regulated environment regardless of whether the donor has consented, allowing for the removal of anonymity to retrospectively apply to all donors. But some commentators have expressed concern that the proposals may breach donors' privacy rights because many having donated on the understanding that they were doing so anonymously.
Dr Tony Bartone, president of the Australian Medical Association, said: 'Donors were given explicit and implicit assurances that their donations were entirely anonymous and that no contact would be made in the future. These assurances should be respected.'
While recognising these concerns, the Victorian Government emphasises that a 2012 Parliamentary committee 'found that knowing your genetic heritage is critical to a person's sense of identity, and [that] community views have also shifted in recent decades in line with this.'
In an apparent bid to address the tension between the rights of the donor and donor-conceived people, the proposals suggest that 'contact vetoes' be introduced. This would mean that donors could retain control over the amount and method of any contact that they have with their offspring – such as by email or telephone – and could even stipulate that there be no contact at all. The proposals also set out how fines could be imposed in circumstances where a contact veto is breached.
The proposed changes arose out of a failed private members' bill, Narelle's Law, named after the late Melbournian, Narelle Grech, who spent 15 years trying to find her own biological father while campaigning for legislative change.
There have also been calls for the creation of a national register of donor information to avoid further inconsistencies between different levels of access to donor information across Australian states.
The Victorian Government is seeking comments about its proposals until 4 September 2015 and plans to introduce legislation to Parliament later in the year.