Lesbians get OK for donor sperm

By Amanda Dunn
Health Reporter
August 3, 2004

Lesbians and single women wanting to become pregnant in Victoria will soon be able to have donor sperm screened, stored and returned to them for self-insemination.

Under new guidelines, the women and sperm donors will be given counselling. Donors will have to register their details in a database, which people born from the donor sperm will be able to access on turning 18. The service will be provided by Melbourne IVF and the Royal Women's Hospital.

Helen Szoke, chief executive of the Infertility Treatment Authority, said the guidelines clarified a grey area of the law governing access to reproductive technology.

In Victoria, access is allowed only in cases in which medical infertility exists. This comes under legislation passed in 2000, following a Federal Court ruling that Victorian laws restricting the use of fertility to heterosexual couples contravened the Federal Sex Discrimination Act.

Dr Szoke said the requirement of medical infertility remained and "socially infertile" women - those unwilling or unable to have sexual intercourse with men - would not have access to IVF, or to donor sperm already held by the clinic. But a sperm donor can now be screened and counselled for the purposes of self-insemination.

Melbourne IVF chairman John McBain said that, ideally, insemination should be done under medical supervision, which is afforded heterosexual couples. As that was not available, it was safer to offer screening and counselling services to prospective mothers and sperm donors than to not offer it.

Although the service would not be available for some weeks, Dr McBain said people could approach the clinic to begin the counselling process.

Under the guidelines, sperm is screened for transmissible diseases and then frozen and stored by the hospital. After six months, the sperm donor will have a blood test to confirm the safety of his donation, which can then be released to the woman to inseminate herself.

Monash IVF has decided not to offer screening for self-insemination. Chief executive Donna Howlett said the clinic performed the procedures only under medical supervision and in cases in which medical infertility existed.

Medical director Gab Kovacs said the new regulations were a way of getting around the act but, from a safety point of view, he was glad the service was offered in Victoria. "It's available and it's done at the Women's (Hospital). I'm happy with that," he said.

Laws relating to who should have access to IVF technology are being reviewed by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, with interim recommendations due next year. A spokesman for Health Minister Bronwyn Pike, Ben Hart, said the minister believed that, as women had been self-inseminating for a long time, "it's better for women who were going to do it anyway that there were safeguards protecting the rights of the unborn child".

Opposition health spokesman David Davis said the law should be complied with and he had concerns about attempts to sidestep it.