14 June 2022

'I was right to be cautious when dating': donor-conceived Canberrans want rights of the child front and centre

| Lottie Twyford
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Donor-conceived Canberrans are calling for greater regulation of the currently often-unregulated assisted reproductive technology industry. Photo: File.

It’s hard enough to navigate the world of dating and intimate relationships as a teenager, but it’s even harder for donor-conceived Canberrans who don’t know who their siblings are or where they live.

For 33-year-old Kirrily, she feared that she may have a consanguineous relationship without her knowledge.

She later found out her concerns had been warranted as she discovered she had three older half-brothers living within the “small community of Canberra”.

Connecting with my half-brothers has been one of the biggest and most rewarding highlights of my life,” Kirrily wrote in a speech that was shared by Labor backbencher Dr Marisa Paterson.

Kirrily was only able to connect with her siblings after her own research and a DNA test through AncestryDNA at a cost of $130.

She still doesn’t know who her donor is and there are no records of her conception.

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When she was younger, it wasn’t just dating where Kirrily suffered. She also experienced poor mental health, which she attributed to not being able to talk to anyone about being donor-conceived, nor were any specialised support services available.

As a child, although her mother was open with her about how she came to be, Kirrily had been forbidden from speaking about how she was conceived. Feelings of loneliness became increasingly pronounced from the age of eight when she started having sleepovers.

Friends would always ask about the absence of my Dad. I didn’t know what to tell them,” she said.

“Although Mum was very honest and open about everything with me, she came from a very strict Catholic community, and I was forbidden from talking about ‘our secret’ with anyone.”

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Eleni, who was also donor-conceived, told of similar anxieties which emerged when she began dating. She noted that a “positive side effect” of leaving Canberra as an adult was reducing the risk of starting a relationship with a relative.

She began looking for her siblings after considering having children of her own.

What she found was “shocking but not surprising” as there had been no requirement for the clinic to keep medical and cultural history for longer than seven years after her birth and she had no legal rights to obtain any of this.

Ultimately, Eleni uncovered “important medical and cultural information that [she and her parents] should have been able to access”.

“Of all the difficulties being donor-conceived creates, the treatment by the medical system has been the worst,” she said.

Dr Marisa Paterson

Dr Marisa Paterson read the stories of donor-conceived people into Hansard in the Assembly last week. Photo: Region Media.

Last year, Dr Paterson called on the ACT Government to review the availability of Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) support services in the ACT, along with regulatory arrangements in other jurisdictions.

She also asked the government to consider establishing a regulatory framework for ART and a donor register.

The ACT Government is expected to hand down its response to that motion by August this year.

Last week, Dr Paterson delivered speeches on behalf of donor-conceived people to the ACT Legislative Assembly.

“The time has come in the ACT that the rights of the child who is conceived through a donor be front and centre of any legislative or policy response,” she said.

“The stories that I [told] are just some of many, many heartbreaking stories outlining the very significant implications of the use of donor material in a largely unregulated environment.”

For more information or support, contact Donor Conceived Australia.

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