Sperm donors back efforts to change law on anonymity
The Sunday Age’s state political editor.
Peter Liston has six children, half of whom he has never met, but not for lack of wanting.
In 1979, Mr Liston donated his sperm at the Royal Children’s Hospital. For an altruistic young man, it was ”a no-brainer”.
”For the merest inconvenience on my part, childless couples could experience the greatest joys life can give,” he said.
But, decades later, Mr Liston often wonders about the children he helped create, and would love to meet them. He knows through clinical records that there are three – two men, now aged 32 and 29, and one woman, aged 31 – from two different families.
But he also knows his offspring are probably unaware of his identity due to guarantees of anonymity donors and couples had to sign at the time.
”If children matching those ages are quick with figures, bad at golf and follow Collingwood they are probably mine,” he says, jokingly.
In Victoria, children born through sperm donations are now given different levels of access to information about their heritage. Those born after 1988 can obtain identifying information about their biological fathers; those born before 1988 cannot.
The state government is now considering whether to give all donors equal access – including the donor’s name, date of birth, and address – as recommended by Parliament’s law reform committee.
It’s a contentious proposal, and not everyone agrees. ”The sperm donors prior to 1988 were given a clear undertaking that their privacy would not be compromised, and we think it would be a very bad precedent to threaten the nature of that agreement,” says Australian Medical Association state president Stephen Parnis.
But Mr Liston is one several men who have spoken to Fairfax Media in recent weeks in a bid to counter what he says are ”misconceptions” about donors wanting to retain anonymity.
He accepts some men may want their identity to remain private, but believes most would be happy to know about their offspring.
Fellow donor Michael Linden agrees. Mr Linden was a 26-year-old student when he donated, partly for altruistic reasons and partly for some spare cash. He thought little of it until 2001, when he read a newspaper story about a girl who had been searching for her biological father and was about to attend a conference relating to donor-conceived children. ”I looked at her picture and read a bit about the donor details, and thought: ‘That’s obviously me’,” he said. ”We contacted the people organising the conference, and ultimately we met. It turns out she had a brother who was also my son. It was incredibly astounding.”
The government is yet to respond to the law reform committee report, but has called for more information – particularly from sperm donors – through a separate inquiry by the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority.
Mr Linden and Mr Liston were among about 40 donors who gave evidence. They are also members of a new group called MAD – Melbourne Anonymous Donors – formed to share experiences and offer support.
Law reform committee deputy chairwoman Jane Garrett, a Labor MP, urged the government to ”move swiftly” on the report, which the Coalition has now had for a year. Labor is considering introducing a private member’s bill if the government decides not to act on the proposed changes.
”The donor-conceived community has waited long enough,” she said.
Committee chairman Clem Newton-Brown, a Liberal MP, said the rights of children should prevail.
The debate around Victoria’s donor laws resurfaced last month when The Sunday Age reported the remarkable story of Narelle Grech, who found her biological father, Ray Tonna, after a 15-year search.
Ms Grech died on March 26, after a two-year battle with bowel cancer. But she and Mr Tonna had given an interview about their happy reunion, and urged the government to change the system. ”This is a basic human right,” Mr Tonna said.