The Victorian Parliament has passed the Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2015, which will allow donor-conceived people to obtain some information about their donors without consent. The Bill follows a 2012 Parliamentary Law Reform Committee Inquiry into Access by Donor-Conceived People to Information about Donors, which made 30 recommendations, including that “legislation be introduced to allow all donor-conceived people to obtain available identifying information about their donor.”
Introducing the Bill into the Legislative Assembly, the Minister for Health, Ms Hennessy said:
“In developing this bill, many stakeholders and members of the public provided thoughtful and heartfelt submissions. The government has heard from donor-conceived individuals who expressed in moving terms their fundamental need to know their genetic heritage and the frustrations they have faced in being denied this information.
We have heard from many donors, some of whom were comfortable with their information being released, and others who expressed profound disappointment and sometimes even anger that their identity may be disclosed….
No-one underestimates how difficult and complex this issue is, and no-one denies that this legislation will be challenging for some members of our community. I assure you, however, that great care has been taken to ameliorate the impact on donors by establishing a comprehensive system of support and contact preferences scheme to allow them to have no contact with their donor-conceived offspring or — if they want contact — control over how it will proceed.”
The Bill is not yet assented, but has a default commencement date of 1 March 2017.
The Bill removes the current distinction in the Act between people conceived from gametes donated prior to 1998 (who already have access to identifying information), and people conceived after 1998. All donor-conceived people will be able to access identifying information such as their donor’s name, date of birth, and ethnic background, where these records are available.
People who wish to receive this information will contact the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, which will become responsible for maintaining the official donor conception register.
The Bill allows donors to have some control over the process through the introduction of “contact preferences”. If an application is made through the Authority, the donor will have four months to lodge their preferred level of contact, which will include the option to select “no contact”. Donor-conceived applicants must give an undertaking that they will comply with this preference, and the Bill makes in an offence with a penalty of 50 penalty units to contact their donor if their donor has chosen “no contact”.
In her second reading speech, Ms Hennessy also acknowledged that there may be some difficulty in locating particular donors, particularly due to the gaps in many existing records.
The founder of Surrogacy Australia, Sam Everingham, told The Guardian Australia that the Bill’s passage through Parliament was “a great thing”:
“It’s really important for children conceived through a donor to be able to access that information about themselves…
Yes, it’s a tricky thing, given people may have donated on the assumption that they would remain completely anonymous. But the culture in Australia these days is all about the rights of the child, and I think that is really important.”
However, medical groups raised concerns about the retrospective nature of the legislation. The Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, Tony Bartone, told The Age:
"These patients underwent a medical procedure – donating sperm and eggs – and were given explicit and implicit assurances that their donations would be anonymous.
The Government has now overruled these assurances.
All patients must feel confident that when they see a doctor and undergo a medical procedure their privacy will be upheld, both now and in the future.”
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Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Bill 2015, Explanatory Memorandum and Second Reading Speech - available from TimeBase's LawOne Service
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