A woman's case for the transparent

By Amanda Dunn
Health Reporter

October 30, 2003

Myfanwy Walker with Michael Linden. "I remember walking in the door and seeing his face, and knowing that he was my father," she said.
Picture: Craig Abraham

As Myfanwy Walker drove across town two years ago to meet her biological father for the first time, she had to pull into a service station, fearing she was going to be sick with anxiety.

Through a very determined search, Ms Walker had tracked down Michael Linden, the man who donated the sperm in 1977 that eventually helped create her and her younger brother.

Since the shock of being told at 20 how she had been conceived, she felt she needed to know more about him to have a more complete sense of her identity.

"I remember walking in the door and seeing his face, and knowing that he was my father," Ms Walker, 22, recalled yesterday at a Melbourne symposium exploring the ethical and legal issues of donor-assisted reproduction.

Ms Walker knows she was lucky to have found Mr Linden. Many children born from donor-assisted reproduction have access only to basic, non-identifying information about donor parents.

Not only are donors reticent about providing information, so too are some recipient parents.

Infertility Treatment Authority chief executive Helen Szoke said surveys showed that only about 20 per cent of recipient parents told their children the story of their conception.

And for children who do know the story and want to find donor parents, it is often a long and frustrating wait for them to come forward.

It is only since 1988 that participants have been required to give limited information about themselves. So far, the authority's voluntary register has enticed few participants - only 37 donors, six offspring and 22 recipient parents have applied in both the pre-1988 and post-1988 groups.

About 150 children are born in Victoria through donor-assisted reproduction each year.

The chairman of Melbourne IVF, John McBain, said that even though recipient parents were encouraged to tell their children about their origins, some just wanted to get on with family life.

"I think there's a fear of another party coming in," he said.

Having tried and failed to contact her biological father through the Royal Women's Hospital, where her parents had received treatment, Ms Walker took her story to The Australian newspaper in 2001. Mr Linden saw the article and made contact.

For Ms Walker, finding her biological father has given her all the information she was looking for.

She and Mr Linden are now friends and are in regular contact.

Her parents, too, have also been in touch with him.

"I think they understand that knowing Michael is important to me, and they accept that," she said.


Your Say

Many children born from donor-assisted reproduction have access only to basic, non-identifying information about donor parents. Infertility Treatment Authority chief executive Helen Szoke said surveys showed that only about 20 per cent of recipient parents told their children the story of their conception.

Do donor parents have a right to privacy? What about the right of children to know of their biological parents? 

This topic is now closed - this is what you said.

Jamie A

I am afraid that you will have to lobby the government for your rights the same way adopted people had to. I hope it comes sooner rather than later for the sake of all "donor" children.

Deal with your decisions people!

Put yourself into the child's shoes; you suddenly find out you are the result of a sperm donation! Wouldn't you want/like or need to know your own history? From who/where you came? I believe it's every child's right to know his/her own personal identity.

Barbara Maison


Absolutely right!

Deal with your decisions people!

If people want to bring children into the world, no matter the means, they need to be willing to be selfless enough to be honest with those children. That means not hiding their identity. Most parents do act as if their child comes first. If someone donates sperm, he's a father. Whether or not he "fathers" is not the issue. He's a father and needs to at least be honest about it.

Laurie Jean Dunfield-Baker

Jamie A (and can I just point out our fellow posters that to my knowledge our last initials don't stand for the same thing) I don't think you are selfish in wanting to know your father's identity, and if anything, believe that your mother is in the wrong. But assuming she herself is a basically decent person, she must have her reasons. Perhaps you could use reverse psychology? Announce that you would never want to know the bastard who sired you and abandoned you and see if the response is 'he wasn't that bad' or 'too right'!

On the other hand, if your mother is NOT a basically decent person, you could tell her she has a choice between telling you herself or her picture on telegraph poles with 'Did you **** this woman? If so, call...' written underneath.

On the other hand, it might be a good idea not to listen to me. I'm not a family psychologist, I'm just some bloke with internet access and too much time on his hands.

Timmy A

I'm of the view that parents (that definition includes those who donate sperm and ova for the purposes of this argument) give up their right to privacy as soon as they make the decision to have a child. As Jamie A has alluded the child's right to know shouldn't be overshadowed by the parent's right to privacy. I just think we all have the right to know where we came from.

Tara Mercuri

Many children born from donor-assisted reproduction have access only to basic, non-identifying information about donor parents. Infertility Treatment Authority chief executive Helen Szoke said surveys showed that only about 20 per cent of recipient parents told their children the story of their conception.

Do donor parents have a right to privacy? What about the right of children to know of their biological parents? 

What you said.

To Jyoti Thapa , im pretty sure that when people donate sperm they have to have proof of a thorough blood test, and STD/STI tests. Also your point re: what if they are ugly. I think that's lame but for people like you yes you do pick what kind of sperm you would like. Ie: if you wanted a black man, with nice bum and good looks then the little nurse will run off and find you some sperm that is filed under that catergory. Sheesh what with face transplants soon to be a thing of the future and attitudes like this i think i'll go and kill myself. What a bloody joke this world is turning into.

My oh My

Jamie A, I totally agree with you. Children do have the right to know who their genetic parents are - and this should apply to adopted kids, kids born to lesbian or single straight mums AND kids in straight families where dad's infertile. Apart from the impact on the child, there's a troubling thought that siblings and cousins might be marrying without knowing they're related - which will increase the number of babies born with genetic diseases.

I'm so sorry to hear your story. JFTR, my partner and I feel it's really important for any future, potential child we have to grow up knowing their father. I'd never just ask someone to 'donate' sperm - it's not like donating blood!

Kate Stewart

The facts of donation setting aside the misinformation in some of the posts here are simple:

Some couples (about 1 in 10) cannot have a family without medical intervention; some need to resort to sperm donation. Leaving aside unnoficial ah-hoc arrangements, families using registered donations are counselled, as is the donor and his partner, who can veto the process. Only with informed consent of all parties does the use of donor sperm occur.

The donor can request his sperm be not used at any time. Legally in Victoria where the terms of reproductive legislation are met, the child legally belongs to the birth mother and her partner, whose names appear on the birth certificate. The donor has no right to the child or vice-versa.

The donor can choose to let identifying details be disclosed to the child and family or not. Similarly, the child and family have the right not to have the donor know their identity. Otherwise only details of medical conditions like hereditary complaints and health issues are communicated.

Donors may be asked to provide sperm for siblings so there is a familial resemblance in brothers and sisters. They can decline to do this.

The clinic attempts to match the donor to the physical characteristics of the male parent.

The real shame is only about 100 men in Victoria provide donor sperm to the Epworth Andrology Clinic. This is not really enough either to provide enough choice in matching appearance and ethnic background to couples, or to reduce the chances of their offspring eventually meeting, which is obviously undesirable for social and genetic reasons.

There are obviously issues to be worked through and human emotions are complex. It appears the best results come from honesty and openness on behalf of all parties. I don't think many children conceived through the use of donor sperm would regret that someone wanted them enough to go through these issues.

This is not to say life is always wonderful for all concerned, but at least humans have a choice about how to respond. End of the day, these children are here; for better or worse. Deal with it.

Mark Cadle

Sperm donors should have a comprehensive right to privacy. It's not as though the donor had any involvement with the child or its legal guardians prior to the conception. The only exception should be for medical records, where a person needs to determine risk for inherited diseases.

David S

About ten years ago a former girlfriend suggested that I consider donating sperm. She had a friend who did it and felt it was wonderful way to help other people who weren't so lucky. I was initially interested, but concerned about unwanted contact in the future. I made enquiries and was assured at the time nobody would be told, but they couldn't garentee how community attitudes would change in the future. That was enough for me - I didn't do it. I'm now married to another woman and about to start a family of our own. The last thing I'd need right now (or any other time) is to have a person that I may be biologically related to forcing an unwanted relationship on me. People donate sperm in good faith and thats where it should end. Any connection between the sperm and the donor should never be recorded so these situations can can't arise.

Tony H

What is the altruism behind the donors' actions in the first place? Do they still get paid for this service? The donors and the mothers are adults and responsible for their actions and the consequences, however, they have no right to keep this vital information from the child.

Deal with your decisions people!

Timmy A
I wasn't conceived via IVF, it was the old fashioned way. I have come to terms with the fact that I will never know who daddy is and while your points are valid ie: would I like him, would he even want a relationship etc, it would still be nice to know. I guess its selfish but I would like to be able to make the choice and not have it made for me.

Jamie A

For any agreement to be valid it must be agreed to by all parties. Once the resulting child has reached 18 years of age any agreement that was made without their participation must surely be null and void.

Anthony Kenneth McIntyre

Jamie A raises a good point, regardless of the wishes of the donor parent and the child, the decision should never be up to the receiving parent. You could put forward an argument, say, for cases where a husband is shooting blanks and the child won't be told that their 'dad' is not their biological father, but it's not on to say 'you were conceived with donor sperm and I'm not telling you whose'.

That said Jamie, maybe try and meet your mum halfway here? You don't say if you were conceived by IVF or 'the old fashioned way' (via an empty jar and a turkey baster). There have been some really fraught cases where sperm was 'donated' outside a hospital setting, men have been forced to pay maintenance despite prior agreements that they wouldn't be involved in the child's upbringing. In one case a couple of years ago, a lesbian mother killed herself and her young child during legal proceedings over the donor's right of access to the child. I myself have been approached about donating sperm to a friend and have refused due to the complex legal environment.

Maybe your mum had an agreement with your 'dad' to make sure you didn't show up in his life later on? Maybe he turned out to be someone you wouldn't be proud of being related to? Or maybe, she abandoned lesbianism for one night and picked up some bloke at the pub, and feels you don't need to know this?

BTW, although I was raised by heterosexuals, I have been fairly certain since my early twenties that my 'dad' is not actually my biological father.

Timmy A

How on earth can one justify going through such a convoluted process as being impregnated by a sperm from a sperm bank in order to bring a child into this already massively crowded world? The dangers are many-fold. What if the sperm donor has some horrible disease that he has not disclosed? What if the sperm donor is a nasty person? What if he is really ugly? Okay okay, I'm getting fussy there but do you understand what I am trying to say? Life is too complicated without having to bring in too many unknown factors into it.

Jyoti Thapa

I believe the donor has the right to keep their identity a secret, and I also believe the children of donors have the right to try to find them. Just like Jamie A, I don't know my father and it's one of the hardest things I have to deal with. It's also important that parents work through the issue with the child, not just shut them out.


Frankly, if I were a child who had been processed in such a manner, I would be quite keen to know who my true parents were. That way, when I was all growed-up and they had gotten old, I would know who to put in a Senior Citizen's home and then never visit. Unless they are very rich, and you are somehow entitled to their money when they (finally!) hit the dirt. Then you should be nice to them.

Really, it doesn't matter who your biological or adoptive (or emotional, or whatever) parents are - none of that changes who *you* are. Just love the person closest to you on the bus, and everything will work out fine.

James Wall

Perhaps both Sperm donation and the IVF scheme should be scrapped, they are costly and all seem to lead to more trouble and more cost to society, adoption is an option, but most seem to want a 'connection' with their offspring. Yesterdays story about the chap who wanted his money back highlighted the fact that he felt that 'connection' with the child till he found out it was not his.

Philip James

I believe the donor should nominate whether they want their details disclosed to any children born of them. I am the child of a lesbian mother who refuses to tell me anything about my father. I know the frustration of wanting to know and not being able to do a thing about it. And James Wall, classy as ever...why do you bother?

Jamie A

James Wall (i hope you where joking) if not that was completley disgusting/disturbing and un-called for (just to throw a spanner in the works) Seriously though i like your sense of humour.
As for this issue, yes Donors have a right to privacy BUT on the other hand the child made from a donor and an egg have a right to know who "made" them. So basically its a catch 22 situation. All i can say is, if you dont want the possibility of being found, then dont go to the clinic, to enter the small room and do some hand exercises. Simple. (was that clean enough)?

The Bright Side

I'm sorry to harp on an old point here, but really, one of the justifications used in Victoria to deny lesbians the right to use sperm bank services is that the resulting child has the right to know both her mother and her father. Meanwhile, thousands of Victorian children grow up in straight families thinking that their mum's husband is their true, genetic father - but that's somehow OK? I just fail to understand this hypocrisy.

Kate Stewart

Who the hell cares? If a bloke wants to donate his, uh, "seed" to the cause of science under the assurance of anonymity, then so be it. For those ladies unable to afford or access such useful services, I have conveniently left deposits at both the Flinders Street Station and Victoria Gardens public toilets.

James Wall

Keep it clean please Mr Wall - Mr Ed

Do donor parents all have the right to privacy? Do all donor parents WANT the right to privacy? Maybe donors should nominate at the time of donation (by which I mean immediately prior, not at the exact moment of donation) whether they would be prepared to be a known donor or not, and recipient parents could then make their own decision.

Personally, I think it's important to at least know of your biological parents because of heredity and the possibility that you could also develop any diseases or degeneratives conditions that may plague them in later life. Call me old fashioned, but I think women who want babies should pick out a nice man who also wants babies and just go for it, whether this is in a traditional marriage, de facto relationship, as friends who do it with a turkey baster, or where mummy sleeps with other mummy and daddy sleeps with other daddy. Okay, maybe I'm not that old fashioned...

Timmy A

I believe that the child should only be allowed to know the donor parent of he/she wishes to be known. I understand how important it is for the child to know where and who they came from, but it is also the donor parent's rights to say whether they want to be indentified or not. Though in this instance from the photo you could quite easily tell that the man was her father.

Kate Davies

I think that sperm donors should have the right to remain anonymous if that is their wish. If they choose to waiver that right, then the child who they have 'fathered' should be able to make contact with them if they wish to do so.

I also think that it is up to the parents to discuss with their children (who have been conceived via sperm donation) how they were conceived...and if the donor has chosen to remain anonymous and not contacted, then this should be respected.


The children should be able to know who their sperm-donor father is. Then they can commence legal action for distress caused by living a life without their real father, and start demanding their fair share of the maintenance they've missed out on, as well as a share of the will. Won't this create some fun at family gatherings when the sperm-donor's children see their inheritance whittled away by all the little kidlets who come out of the woodwork!!

Professor Rosseforp



See also 20040809 Why donor offspring need to know the truth

Otttawa Men's Centre  613-482-1112 Email OttawaMensCentre@hotmail.com