Friday, May 12, 2006

Ads urge parents to tell children of sperm bank origins

By Carol NaderMay 12, 2006
TheAge.Com.Au

PARENTS of children conceived with donor sperm will be urged by health authorities to tell their children about their origins, in ads to start appearing in newspapers this weekend.

The State Government has decided against changing legislation that will let sperm and egg donors initiate contact with their biological children, despite warnings that it could leave children traumatised.

The full impact of this law will be felt from July, when the first children affected turn 18. About 100 children covered by the law will turn 18 this year, and there are 3000 others on the register.

A donor wanting to contact the child can apply to the Infertility Treatment Authority. The child will get a letter saying their donor wants to meet them, asking for consent and offering counselling. But only a third of donor-sperm children are told by parents of their origins, leading to fears that an unexpected letter could traumatise the child.

The law affects children born after July 1, 1988. Children can also initiate contact, but the Victorian Law Reform Commission has recommended that donors should not be able to do so.
The "Time to Tell" advertising campaign explains that children over 18 and donors will gain the right, with mutual consent, to seek identifying information about each other. More detailed brochures say everyone has the right to know of their background. "Tell your children even if they are too young to fully understand," the brochures say. "Secrets in families can undermine the trust and stability of family relationships."

The authority also says telling is important for medical reasons relating to inherited diseases.
Chief executive Louise Johnson said the authority knew that it could be hard for parents to find the right words or right time but government-funded counselling was available. She expected "a small number" of donors to apply for information.

"I think the compelling thing is that young people who have been donor-conceived who are now adults passionately believe that it's important to know about where they came from, even though that journey might be a tough one," she said.

Melbourne IVF director John McBain has lobbied Health Minister Bronwyn Pike against allowing this to happen. Dr McBain believes parents should tell their children, but does not believe they should be forced to.

"You cannot go around telling people what to do with their children," he said.

Dr McBain said he welcomed phone calls from parents worried about the changes, but he would also suggest they call the minister's office. He believes the changes could destroy lives. "I don't think there is any sensitive way that the (authority) 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.' "

Donor Conception Support Group secretary Leonie Hewitt said ensuring publicity before letters went out would give people the chance to deal with the issue first.

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