In 1979, when Aaron* answered a call for volunteer research participants at Melbourne’s Royal Women’s Hospital, he was surprised to find himself signing up to a sperm donation program. Now, more than 35 years later, Aaron has connected with two of his donor offspring and is seeking contact with others.
Aaron is one of a small but growing number of sperm donors applying for information about their offspring through the Victorian donor conception registers. His motivation to apply for information arose from a growing awareness of the difficulties encountered by some adult donor-conceived people who had sought their donor.
The experiences of ABC journalist Sarah Dingle, for example, whose donor information was removed from her mother’s treatment records, and those of Narelle Grech and Lauren Burns, both of whom eventually connected with their donor, strongly influenced Aaron’s view of the issue.
“Sarah’s talented investigative journalism, and the courageousness and persistence of Narelle and Lauren and many others that led to changes in relevant Victorian state law, convinced me the right of donor-conceived people to know can and should be paramount.”
In 2015, Aaron applied to the Victorian Central Register for information about his offspring. Two siblings, now in their thirties, were contacted and informed of Aaron’s application. It was through this process that they learnt of their donor conception.
Aaron concedes that it may have been confronting for his donor offspring to have learnt in this way that their genetic origins were not as they may have previously thought.
“I don’t envy the initial shock that they went through,” he said. “Now that they have gotten to know me and I’ve gotten to know them, it feels absolutely wonderful that all is well that ends well for all concerned.”
In the early days of donor conception treatment, parents were usually advised not to tell their children the truth of their origins. As a result, there are many adult donor-conceived people who, like Aaron’s offspring, are unaware of the reality of their conception.
While Aaron understands that parents of adult donor-conceived people were following prevailing advice from the time of their treatment, he has become thoroughly convinced that donor-conceived people have the right to know where they come from.
“The right to know has no time limit, but the sooner you choose to disclose, the sooner your kids can decide for themselves whether or not to seek more information. And if you’re concerned … contact VARTA prior to disclosure: that’s what they’re there for.”
For Aaron, connecting with his donor offspring has been one of the most joyful and rewarding experiences of his life.
“I’ve never encountered a pair who get along so well; who are so close to each other; who look after each other and their respective young families. Their parents clearly did a terrific job of bringing them up.”
At first, Aaron expected the donor linking process – where people connected via donor conception treatment are linked – to proceed fairly quickly. Staff at VARTA emphasised the importance of proceeding slowly and with caution.
“It is clear that taking it slowly is absolutely crucial to a well-managed successful outcome. We started with non-identifying email correspondence, and finally ended with a wonderful initial in-person encounter, by which time it felt as though we already knew each other pretty well.”
In addition to the two siblings with whom he has already connected, Aaron has three other donor offspring, each from separate families. He plans to outreach to his other donor offspring one at a time.
Aaron acknowledges that the challenges and risks associated with donor linking are substantial, but the prospective benefits outweigh the risk of denying the right to know indefinitely: “There is no risk free option on this issue. The nearest thing to risk free is carefully controlled risk acceptance”.
“I have no particular expectations, and any follow through beyond the initiation step will be completely up to each individual. In other words, if one or more choose to not make a connection at all then that’s cool -- they’ll be in control.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.