A key principle of Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Act 2008 (ART Act) is that children conceived through donation in Victoria have the right to know their biological origins when, or if appropriate before, they reach the age of 18.
Children’s right to know
There is strong evidence that children benefit from their parents and other adults in their lives being open about their donor origins, and if possible doing so from when they are very young, whether or not they have contact or a relationship with their donor or surrogate. Historically, parents in rainbow families have tended to be much more open about their children’s donor origins than heterosexual parents. After all, same-sex couples and sole parents clearly require some assistance to conceive their children!
Children in rainbow families are often in contact with other families like theirs. There are also many other children in the broader community conceived through fertility services, and being raised in a constellation of family formations including same-sex parents, sole parents, separated parents, step-parents, grandparents, adoptive parents, foster parents and others. It is not unusual for children of same-sex and sole parents to be told their own special story from an early age about the wonderful person or people who helped to bring them into their loving family.
Donor registers: a complex history
The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages (BDM) is responsible for registering information about children’s births and their donor information. Where a child is conceived through a clinic, the information is held in the Central Donor Register. Where a child is conceived via home insemination, the information is in their birth record, but not on their birth certificate.
On 1 July 1988 the Central Register commenced operation, recording information about people associated with births resulting from donor conception from that time onwards, including donors, parents and donor-conceived people. Information about anyone on the Central Register from that time could be released with that person’s written consent.
Prior to 1 July 1988, donor information about children conceived in Victoria (through clinics) was essentially anonymous. Children conceived prior to then have no automatic right to access information about their donor origins, and indeed such information is often not available, as men donated under condition of anonymity. Children conceived between 1988 and 1998 can request their donor information, but are not automatically entitled to it – the donor must consent for it to be released.
Early on, a register (now called the Voluntary Register) was set up to allow people to voluntarily lodge information about themselves, and their consent to release this information to other parties (such as the donor and donor-conceived people, including half biological siblings). At the time this was only available to people involved in treatment procedures that took place after 1 July 1998. In 2002, the capacity of the Voluntary Register was expanded to include people associated with births resulting from donor conception prior to 1 July 1988.
At the same time, the conditions of donation through a fertility clinic changed, requiring donors to consent to release of their identifying information to an adult (over 18) conceived using their egg or sperm, if that person applied. Information from this point was required to be released to the (adult) donor-conceived person without permission.
A donor or the donor-conceived person’s parents could also apply for information about other people associated with the birth (for example, a donor could apply for information about the child/ren created from his or her gametes) but this information could only be released with that person’s permission – in the case of donor conceived people, after they had turned 18 or beforehand with their parent/s’ permission.
In 2010, the ART Act transferred responsibility for the registers from the Infertility Treatment Authority (or ITA, the statutory body then responsible for them) to the Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The ITA became VARTA, the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, and its role now focusses on education for people associated with births resulting from donor conception.
The ART Act also extended the rights of donor-conceived children by allowing them to apply for identifying information about their donor before 18. There is evidence that many children are most interested in this information in adolescence or earlier. To receive the information, the donor-conceived person must have the consent of their parents or a written assessment from a counsellor (as defined in the ART Act) stating that they are sufficiently mature to understand the consequences of receiving this information. Parents of a donor-conceived person can also apply for identifying information, but it cannot be released without the donor’s permission.
The ART Act also said that eliglble people can only obtain information about a donor-concieved person, or his/her parent, or the donor/s, and no-one else. It also made it mandatory that people receive approved counselling prior to the release of identifying information from the Voluntary Register, the same as applicants to the Central Register.