Victoria's fertility authority advises parents to tell children about donors
Dr. Kirsty Horsey
Progress Educational Trust31 May 2006
The fertility treatment regulator in the Australian state of Victoria has launched a newspaper advertising campaign designed to encourage parents of children born following egg or sperm donation to tell their children about their origins.
The Infertility Treatment Authority (ITA) says that it is doing this because from July of this year, donors and offspring will be able to seek information about each other through the ITA's records. A number of people in the state who conceived using donated eggs or sperm will soon be 18 years old, meaning that they could get a letter informing them about their birth history. They were the first to be born after the Infertility Act came into force in 1988 - the Act provides that donors will be able to contact the ITA and ask to be put in touch with their biological offspring - or vice versa. The authority will ask the other party for consent, and the two can then be put in contact with each other.
According to Louise Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of the ITA, 'only about 30 to 50 per cent of children in this situation have been told, and we want to support families'. She added: 'We know that parents find it very, very hard to tell, they find it hard to find the right words and the right time'. Because of what will happen now the law is 18 years old, the ITA has designed the 'Time to Tell' adverts, advising parents of donor children to tell them how they were conceived, so that it doesn't come as a surprise in a letter from the ITA.
Not everyone is welcoming the new rules. Professor Michael Chapman, from IVF Australia, doesn't think it's the right way to do things. 'Probably two-thirds of parents don't tell their children', he said, adding 'I'm not saying that's the right thing, but that's the decision that they've made between themselves. I don't think any interference from a government body is the right way to go'. Melbourne IVF's director, Dr John McBain, agrees. He has lobbied health officials to get them to change the law before its effects can be felt. While he believes that children should be told how they were conceived, he says, he qualifies this by saying 'you can't go around telling people what to do with their children'. He also fears that the law could have profound effects on people's lives: 'I don't think there is any sensitive way that the ITA can write to a newly-turned 18-year-old child and say 'I'm from the Government, we would like to offer you counselling because your donor would like to meet you''. However, Leonie Hewitt, secretary of the Donor Conception Support Group, believes that making the issue public before any letters are sent will 'give people a chance to deal with the issue first'.
Reproduced with permission from BioNews, an email and online sources of news, information and comment on assisted reproduction and genetics.