Jigsaw Queensland - provides support and information for people affected by donor-conception.
What does donor conception have to do with an adoption? Donor-conceived adults are advocating for the right to their genetic identity, with current arguments for secrecy similar to those used by closed adoption supporters in the 90’s.
Donor-conception refers to the use of donated gametes (sperm and/or eggs) for the purpose of having a child. In the majority of cases the child will be genetically related to one parent, although in the use of donated embryos the child will have no genetic connection to either parent. In all cases, the mother will physically carry and give birth to the child.
Historically there has been a strong element of secrecy surrounding donor-conception, with the use of anonymous donors being not just preferred, but required. Current estimates suggest that there are at least 60,000 donor conceived people living in Australia, with the vast majority unaware of the truth of their conception. The practice of utilising anonymous gamete donors was banned in IVF clinics Australia-wide in 2005 through the NHMRC guidelines. The majority of this research focuses on donor-conceived adults who were conceived anonymously prior to 2005.
One of the most prominent issues that has been raised by donor-conceived people is the lack of access to their genetic identity. Before regulation, many older IVF clinics had deliberately destroyed medical records to ensure the donors identity remained anonymous. This means that a large number of people now have no viable avenue for seeking their genetic identity.
Up until quite recently there was a significant lack of information regarding donor-conception and in its absence many donor-conceived people turned to adoption literature. In fact, prior to the now recognised term ‘donor-conceived’, many referred to themselves as ‘donor-inseminated adoptees’ or as ‘half-adopted’. A quote from one donor-conceived individual states “I started reading a lot of adoption literature and meeting a lot of adoptees and they really understood and validated my concerns and they validated my feelings about donor conception”. This is not to suggest that the experiences of adoptees and donor-conceived people are the same, just that there are recognised similarities.
Other studied similarities between the experiences of donor-conceived individuals and adoptees include experiencing a sense of loss resulting from disconnection to their biological family, genealogical bewilderment, incomplete/absent medical history and the impacts of late discovery. Further is the question of unknown siblings, which in some rare cases of donor-conception could be as high as 50. Another potential similarity is the expectation to ‘be grateful that your parents went through so much effort to have you’, which can add guilt to the very real feelings of loss. There are of course recognised differences. Adoptees may feel a sense of abandonment that is not present in the donor experience. Donor-conceived people may focus on the ‘deliberately created to fulfil adult needs’ aspect of their experience, which is still medically sanctioned as a way to overcome infertility today.
The NT, ACT, QLD and TAS still have no legislation regarding access to donor information, and purely rely on the NHMRC guidelines. The NHMRC guidelines are complicated in that they are not legally enforced, but clinics are still required to adhere to them. These jurisdictions also have no central registers for matching donors and donor-conceived people. In VIC, NSW, WA and SA legislation exists but varies greatly by state. The right to information is based on factors such as the year of birth, the year of donation, donor consent and the nature of information collected. Generally, there is no retrospective access to donor information. This leaves the vast majority of donor-conceived adults with no right to access their own genetic information.
Support and information for people affected by donor conception can be obtained from Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) or Jigsaw Queensland.
At the age of 21, aeronautical engineer Lauren Burns was told a family secret that turned her world upside down. Her mother, Barbara Burns revealed that Lauren was conceived in a Melbourne clinic using donor sperm. The man she knew as her father was infertile. Mrs Burns says the culture at the time was to 'take the child home and forget how it was conceived. Just pretend it was your child and nobody knew.'
Helped by her mother, Lauren embarked on a long and arduous search to discover the identity of her donor father. She knew him only as 'C11' - the 'C' stood for the first letter of his surname and the number meant he was the 11th person recruited in the 'C' category.
Four fruitless years later, Lauren had one final card to play. What she managed to finally discover was truly astonishing. 'Searching for C11', a two-part Australian Story special, untangles a complex ethical and emotional web involving not just Lauren Burns but two other young women...
"I started reading a lot of adoption literature and meeting a lot of adoptees and they really understood and validated my concerns and they validated my feelings about donor-conception."