Under new donor conception laws making contact will be easier for donor-conceived people and donors.
Since the implementation of Victoria’s first donor conception laws in 1988, there have been a number of amendments passed in recent years.
Existing laws give Victorian donor–conceived people the right to apply for information about their donor, but donors who donated before 1998 need to consent to the release of their identifying information (donors who donated after 1998 agreed, at the time of their donation, that their identity could be released to their offspring when they turned 18).
Under legislative changes coming into effect by 1 March 2017, pre 1998 donors will no longer be required to consent to the release of their identifying information. Recognising that some donors may have concerns about these changes, the new legislation gives donors the right to use a contact preference to determine how – or if – they have contact with their donor offspring. A contact preference will mean the subject of an application can determine how they have contact with an applicant and may involve, among other things, communication by email, phone, in person or to exchange information via a post-box service. People will also have the option to choose “no contact”. A contact preference can, in turn, apply to the children of donors who are younger than 18.
The forthcoming changes to the law arose from the Victorian government’s commitment to implement recommendations made in 2012 by the Parliamentary Law Reform Committee to give equal rights to all donor-conceived people regardless of when they were born. The committee also recommended the donor registers move from the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) to the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA).
VARTA’s Donor Registers Service, established with the implementation of current laws in June 2015, provides confidential and impartial support to applicants and those affected by an application to the donor registers. Moving the registers to VARTA in 2017 will allow it to provide a “one-door-in” information and support service to all parties.
Two sides of a legal coin
Considerable focus has been given to how changes to donor conception laws give equal rights to all donor-conceived people and how these new rights may impact on donors and their families. However, less attention has been given to the fact that since June 2015 pre-1988 donors joined other donors in having the ability apply for identifying information about their donor offspring. However, information will only be released to a donor with the consent of the donor-conceived person. While it is not common for donors to apply for information about their offspring, it does happen. If a donor lodges an application and the donor-conceived person is younger than 18, the parent will need to consent to the release of information. However, if the donor-conceived person is older than 18, they will be notified of the application directly by BDM (or by VARTA from March 2017) and will be asked how they would like to proceed. Currently, identifying information from donor-conceived offspring is released to their donors with consent only. Consent will still be required from March 2017, but donor-conceived people will also then have contact preferences available to them.
Many recipient parents who received donor treatment in the 1970s and ’80s followed advice from the time not to tell their children. As a result, there are donor-conceived people who may not know how they were conceived and who, as a result of a donor application, may learn of their donor-conception from a staff member at BDM or VARTA.
It is never too late to tell
Most parents would prefer their children learn the circumstances of their birth directly from them, giving them an opportunity to discuss their story in their own words. Moreover, research shows that donor-conceived people prefer to learn this information from their parents – but that they also understand this may be a challenging conversation for their parents to have. VARTA provides information on how best to have these discussions and encourages parents who have questions to contact it directly.
Donor-conceived people, their parents and donors often want to learn more about one another and are willing to share information about themselves. However, there are people who worry about the impact the change in legislation could have on them, their families, and their privacy. VARTA encourages people who have concerns to speak to VARTA staff who will provide professional, sensitive, and unbiased support and information.
Louise Johnson is CEO of VARTA, a statutory authority charged with education about assisted reproductive treatment, the health and welfare of children born as a result of treatment, and the causes and prevention of infertility. For more information visit www.varta.org.au.