Children of strangers: a fight for the right to know dad

IF I have to tell the story of my family history, I can't tell much, at least from my paternal side. As far back as I know, before conception, I was frozen in a vial in the now defunct Prince Henry's Hospital. The fertility expert who helped my mother conceive was Professor David de Kretser, now the Governor of Victoria.

As debate rages about the Assisted Reproductive Technology Bill (2008), we, the children created through donor gamete conception, are the real experts on the issue. Unfortunately, our voices struggle to be heard. While the debate has mainly centred on removing discrimination against single women and lesbians who do not get the same rights to fertility treatment as women in relationships with men little attention has been paid to the fact that buried in the ART Bill is a demoralising discrimination against me and people like me.

People born through assisted reproductive technology in Victoria before 1988 are the only group of Victorians who are denied, explicitly, by law, access to information about their genetic identity.

The importance of the biological link of families is ingrained in the species. The emotional climax of Star Wars, for instance, comes when Darth Vader says "Luke, I am your father." If biological links were not important, Luke's response would have been. "So what?"

My birth certificate is the document I look to for information regarding my parentage and identity. But it is a deception. A minority of people lie about their child's parentage on their birth certificate. However, the crucial difference in our case is the deception is sanctioned by law.

The current legal situation discriminates against people based on the year in which they were born and the manner of their conception. Those, like me, who were born through assisted reproductive technology before 1988 have no rights to information.

In 1984, Victoria led the country in creating a law allowing all adopted people retrospective access to their records, regardless of any understandings about anonymity. I believe this to be a precedent to providing donor-conceived people similar retrospective access to information. People may hold the view that gamete donors acted altruistically to help infertile couples, on condition of anonymity and that anonymity should be respected. However, it should be considered that those most affected (the children) were not party to the contract and it would be unfair to ask them to abide by it. Donors will always maintain the right to say they don't want anything to do with the children they gave up before they were conceived and I accept this.

It is a classic clash of rights, with the right of the donor to remain anonymous in direct competition with the right of the child to know their genetic heritage.

When rights collide, it is necessary to decide whose rights are more important. The charter of all assisted reproductive technology legislation states that the rights of the child should be considered paramount.

At the moment the rights of people, such as myself, to know their identity is secondary to the rights of parents who wish to record only the social structure of the child's family on their birth certificate, and the donor to remain anonymous. Thus the law only pays lip service to what is cited as the ideology of the legislation.

The main reason people choose to have children from gamete donation rather than adoption is so they are genetically related to their children. In the case of children born before 1988, the law simply says "tough cookies" and the children are left to deal with the consequences and with unanswered questions.

Almost all donor-conceived children have half-siblings in the Melbourne area that they will probably never knowingly meet. If you are a male born in December 1981 or July 1984 or a female born in August 1981 you could be my half-brother or half-sister. It is, indeed, a tangled web. My identity should belong to me, instead of being locked away.

At the moment, I know six things about the man who gave me half my genes. One: Date of birth, January 1957. Two: Blue eyes. Three: Fair hair. Four: Height 1.8 metres. Five: Weight 73 kilograms. Six: General good health.

Two of my biggest questions are "What nationality is he?" and "What does he look like?" And I would also like to know if I am following in his footsteps or maybe, like Luke Skywalker, forging my own path.

Lauren Burns is an engineering student.

 

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