Children born following the use of donor sperm or eggs in the Australian state of Victoria will now, from 1 July, be able to trace their biological parents when they reach the age of 18. Relatedly, donors of gametes will also be able to apply for information on any adult children conceived using their genetic material.
A number of people in the state who were conceived using donated eggs or sperm will soon be 18 years old, meaning that, according to the law, they will get a letter informing them about their birth history. They were the first to be born after the Infertility (Medical Procedures) Act came into force in 1988 - the Act provides that donors will be able to contact the Infertility Treatment Authority (ITA) - the fertility treatment regulator in Victoria - 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 - if no consent is given, the party will still be informed that a request has been made - therefore donor-conceived offspring who have not been told the circumstances of their conception by their parents may end up finding out this way. Children born since 1995 will not need consent to get identifying information about their donor 'parent' - including name and address - and vice versa. The authority has records on the 3315 births of children following donor conception in the state since 1988. About 100 of these will turn 18 by the end of 2006, with about 200 per year reaching adulthood in every subsequent year.
In May, the ITA launched 'Time to Tell', a newspaper advertising campaign designed to encourage parents of children born following egg or sperm donation to tell their children about their origins, in order to pre-empt the change to the law. Helen Kane, manager of the ITA's donor register services, said that the authority is not expecting many applications from young adults just turning 18, adding that the experience has so far been 'a steady stream of people wanting to know how to tell their children they were conceived by donor sperm or egg' - this may be as a result of the authority's May campaign. She added that research has shown that most donor-conceived people begin to think about finding out about their genetic connections at the age when they themselves start entering serious relationships or thinking about having their own families, usually from the mid-20s onwards. In May, when the ITA advertising campaign was launched, Louise Johnson, Chief Executive Officer of the authority, said that 'only about 30 to 50 per cent of children in this situation have been told', adding that 'we know that parents find it very, very hard to tell, they find it hard to find the right words and the right time'.
Professor Gab Kovacs, the director of Australia's largest fertility clinic, Monash IVF, said that the potential impact of the legislation could damages hundreds of families. His research shows that only one in three of his patients tell their children the whole story of their conception. 'Even though young people have the option of refusing to meet their donors, the secret of their conception - and it is a secret in two out of three cases - would still have to be released', he said, adding that 'it's a stupid situation and I think it is going to cause a lot of problems'.