Law Reform Committee: access by donor-conceived people to information about donors

I rise to make a contribution regarding the government’s interim response to the Law Reform Committee’s report on access by donor-conceived people to information about donors. As the house is aware, the committee undertook a comprehensive process and produced a comprehensive report with unanimous and clear recommendations regarding the rights of donor-conceived children to have access to information about their genetic parentage. Central to those recommendations was that the welfare and interests of persons born as a result of assisted reproductive technology and procedures is paramount. That guided the committee in its work and in the unanimous recommendations it made in the report.

I note that this is a controversial issue that has been the subject of public scrutiny and discussion for many years. There have been a range of public inquiries at both the state and federal levels. There has been significant media interest in stories about this over the years, and a range of education campaigns have been conducted by organisations such as the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority to raise awareness of these issues and to encourage donor-conceived children and donors to come forward and facilitate meetings.

As we know, the Law Reform Committee, on which I serve, undertook an extensive, two-stage process with this inquiry, which began in June 2010. We conducted a well-advertised and lengthy public consultation period that involved many written submissions and public hearings. One of the great benefits of the process the committee undertook and the careful consideration it gave these matters was that an extremely comprehensive series of public hearings and public submissions were made. The process was very open and transparent; it was very thorough, and I believe the appropriate amount of time and resources was given to the committee’s fine and proper work.

The concerns I wish to raise in the house regarding the government’s interim response after some seven months of the recommendations being made are the short nature of it and the reference to further hearings behind closed doors, if you like, or research, with no fulsome discussion about what that research will involve and no indication of who will be consulted or how they will be consulted. This flies in the face of the manner in which the committee conducted its extensive hearings, and I pay tribute to the members of the committee.

This is yet another process in a long line of processes for participants and key stakeholders, particularly children whose lives have been fundamentally affected by the nature of their conception.

As the house is aware, we heard many stories from donor-conceived children about the profound impact that not knowing their genetic heritage has had on their lives. Often the manner in which they were advised of their genetic heritage was extremely fraught and came at a time of great stress in their families and further contributed to their deep and grave concerns and their sense of identity crisis. We heard from these people, who have told their stories many times, both in these sorts of hearings and in the media.

It was those stories that compelled the committee to reach unanimous conclusions about the rights of these children outweighing the rights of donors to remain anonymous, particularly given a widespread acceptance that the views held at the time — that children should never be told and that that was the appropriate approach — were probably not the correct approach when we look back in hindsight, which we all know is a wonderful thing.

We are deeply concerned that there is yet another process being foisted upon a group of highly anxious and often distressed individuals regarding this. We are concerned about the closed-door nature of the process, and we would like to put that on the record. We once again urge the government to carefully consider those recommendations, to put the interests of those children who had no say in how their conception took place first and foremost and, similarly to what my colleague stated in relation to adoption, to allow those children the right to know their genetic heritage.

Hansard, 2013