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Victoria to consider retrospectively lifting donor anonymity

6 July 2015
Appeared 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.

14 March 2016 - by Professor Guido Pennings 
The State Legislature of Victoria has decided unilaterally to break their agreements with the sperm donors who donated before 1998 and will reveal their identity. It is difficult to imagine a measure that shows more disrespect for both donors and recipients...
29 February 2016 - by Professor Sonia Allan and Damian Adams 
The state parliament of Victoria in Australia has passed legislation that will enable all donor-conceived people to receive identifying information about their sperm, oocyte, or embryo donor(s). The model adopted is a world first in its application to donor conception...
11 January 2016 - by Dr Julia Hill 
The Donor Detectives is an ABC radio documentary about donor-conceived people who have turned to alternative methods in an attempt to identify their biological fathers....
30 November 2015 - by Pod Academy 
If you missed '10 Years Since the End of Donor Anonymity: Have We Got It Right?', a debate organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) in partnership with the National Gamete Donation Trust, then you are in luck. This podcast, produced by Pod Academy, captures some of the highlights from the debate....
16 November 2015 - by Charles Lister 
The Chair of the National Gamete Donation Trust argues that the whole fertility sector must take seriously the need of donor-conceived children to know about their origins...
29 July 2013 - by Sarah Norcross 
Given that the Progress Educational Trust (PET) has just completed a project on gamete donation I was more than intrigued about this debate, but was left disappointed...
3 June 2013 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The Supreme Court of Canada has declined to hear a case brought by a woman conceived by IVF using donated sperm that would have ended donor anonymity in the province. The decision is likely to be the end of a lawsuit that was commenced five years ago....
18 June 2012 - by James Brooks 
A French court has effectively reaffirmed the country's policy of gamete donor anonymity by rejecting a donor-conceived woman's demand for information on her biological father...
2 April 2012 - by Rosemary Paxman 
A law reform committee in the Australian state of Victoria has recommended that all donor-conceived people should be able to access identifying information about their donors...
27 February 2012 - by Dr Marilyn Crawshaw and Walter Merricks 
It is now eight years since the HFEA first issued guidance to UK licensed treatment centres to respond as fully as possible to patients' requests for non-identifying donor information...
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