Understanding donor conception

Considering donor conception

Deciding to have a child with the help of donor sperm, eggs or embryos involves many considerations. The choices you make can have lifelong consequences for you, your child and the donor. VARTA recommends seeking advice from a fertility specialist and clinic counsellor to explore the health, legal and social issues involved.

What’s involved?

There are many reasons why people may need donor sperm, eggs or embryos. You can read more about why a doctor may recommend it here.

If you are considering donor conception, VARTA recommends following these steps:

  • Speak to your GP or fertility specialist about a fertility assessment and donor conception options.
  • Find a donor. You can read more about the potential risks and benefits of finding a donor in different ways below.
  • Discuss all of the issues involved for you and your partner (if you have one) with a counsellor.
  • Complete the required consent forms with your counsellor. This will cover details such as withdrawal of consent and what happens in the event of death. You and your partner (if any) will need to be involved in this.
  • Undertake fertility treatment at your fertility clinic.

Finding a donor

Using a fertility clinic donor

Most fertility clinics have sperm donors, with some also recruiting egg donors. If donor numbers become low, there may be a waiting list. All donations must be altruistic, meaning donors are not allowed to be paid for donating (apart from reasonable reimbursement of expenses). In Victoria, a maximum of 10 women can have children from the same donor. This limit includes women anywhere in the world and any children a donor already has with a current or former partner.

Donors are medically screened for infectious diseases. They (and their partner) have counselling to inform them of their rights and responsibilities before donating.

All donors consent to their identifying details (name, date of birth, last known address) being released to the donor-conceived person when they turn 18. Donors complete a donor profile giving some information about themselves including why they donated, their hobbies, personality, appearance, and whether they are open to being contacted before the child is an adult. Potential recipients are usually able to read these profiles and, if possible, choose which donor they prefer.

You can find out more from your fertility clinic.

Using a known donor

A known donor could be an acquaintance, friend, or family member. Using a known donor often requires letting people know you are looking for a donor. You may want to consider the following questions when finding a known donor:

  • What criteria are you looking for in a donor (e.g. level of ongoing involvement or contact) and what would exclude someone as a potential donor?
  • Why is the person donating to you? Do they feel obliged to donate to you? The decision to donate may have long lasting implications for the donor, their partner (if any), and their family, so it is a good idea to ensure they do not feel an obligation to donate, but rather want to do it for their own reasons.

A known donor can be used for treatment through a registered Victorian fertility clinic. If you are considering a donor you have met recently, consider the potential risks of informal donation arrangements before proceeding.

The relationship between all parties, including the parents and the donor, and the donor and the child, can vary enormously from no contact to occasional contact or an ongoing relationship. It is important that everyone involved including partners (if any) express how they feel about the arrangement, roles and consent. Regardless of the level of involvement, maintaining a positive ongoing relationship can be beneficial for known donors, parents and the child. This is particularly important where there is a co-parenting arrangement in which the donor is actively involved in the child's upbringing.

Expectations, feelings, and needs are likely to change over time. As things change, it is important to focus on ensuring positive outcomes. Some factors that can help contribute to positive relationships are:

  • a high level of trust and a capacity to communicate openly and honestly
  • an ability to manage change and conflict
  • a solid grounding of shared values and priorities
  • holding each other in high regard
  • a level of emotional maturity.

Advertising for a donor

If you want to advertise for an egg, sperm or embryo donor, you need to apply for approval from the Victorian Health Minister before it is published.

This legal requirement applies to all advertisements about egg, embryo or sperm donation appearing in public forums. This includes all forms of advertisements, whether in newspapers, websites, social media or through apps on your smart phone. The law also applies to advertisements placed in public view in any public space.

You can apply for approval by emailing a draft of your advertisement and the details of where you plan to advertise it to: art.enquiries@dhhs.vic.gov.au. Or you can post the details to:

Minister for Health
Department of Health and Human Services

GPO BOX 4541
Melbourne VIC 3000

The Minister will respond to your application in writing. If your advertisement is approved, you can then advertise. Keep in mind that your advertising must be in accordance with any undertaking you made to the Minister when seeking approval for your advertisement.

If you want to inquire about the progress of your application email: art.enquiries@dhhs.vic.gov.au.

VARTA does not have any role in assessing or approving applications to advertise for a donor.

You can find examples of advertisements here.

Importing donor eggs, sperm or embryos

If you would like to import donated eggs, sperm, or embryos (created using donor eggs or sperm) to Victoria for treatment, you need to apply to VARTA for approval to import donated material

If you travel overseas to find a donor and have fertility treatment, consider the potential consequences of using an anonymous donor. Although anonymity may seem appealing to some people, a child born in these circumstances will not be added to Victoria’s Central Register. This means you may not be able to contact the donor or exchange important information, such as medical history that might be relevant to your child’s health. It may also make it harder for your child to have any contact with their donor and other genetic relatives in future. Many donor-conceived people say they value the ability to connect with genetic relatives and that it helps them understand their identity and heritage. 

Risks of informal donation outside of a clinic setting

VARTA recommends accessing a donation through a regulated fertility clinic, instead of through an informal arrangement. While some people negotiate arrangements with the help of lawyers themselves, consider the following points:

  • Men who donate sperm through clinics are screened for infectious diseases such as HIV which can be passed on to a woman and her baby. They also complete genetic health questionnaires which may offer useful information to recipient parent(s) and their child further down the track.
  • Fertility clinics can offer a test for donors to see if they are a carrier of genetic conditions including cystic fibrosis, fragile X syndrome and spinal muscular atrophy.
  • Donations that occur through clinics offer all parties legal protections. This can prevent improper claims of parentage from a donor and improper claims for child support from a recipient. 
  • Parents, donors and donor-conceived people involved in informal arrangements cannot be included on VARTA’s registers. This means that neither you, nor your child, will be able to access information about the donor or make contact with them through VARTA's specialist donor linking service.
  • An informal donor may not provide their true personal details for a woman and her child to contact them in future. Many donor-conceived people value this information and say it is important for them to understand their identity and heritage. It can also help if they develop an inherited disease, for example, and require medical information from their donor. 
  • An informal donor may exceed Victoria’s legal limit on how many children they can create. Under Victorian law, a donor’s sperm can only be used to create children with up to 10 women. This includes children they have created with a current or former partner. This helps prevent donor-conceived people (half siblings or donor siblings) unwittingly having intimate relationships with each other. Many donor-conceived people worldwide have spoken about how distressing it is to learn they have large numbers of half siblings. This law is designed to reduce that number. However, only donor-conceived children born with the help of fertility treatment are reported to VARTA’s registers to monitor these limits. This means an informal donor could have created many children who are not documented on a register.
  • There are special requirements for documenting donor conception on a child’s birth certificate if you proceed with an informal arrangement outside of a clinic. You can find out more about it from Births, Deaths and Marriages Victoria.
  • There have been reports of men sexually harassing or assaulting women they meet as part of informal sperm donation arrangements. Consider risks to your personal safety when meeting potential donors.
  • A donor can be considered a legal parent and have custody rights if a child is conceived by natural insemination (sexual intercourse).

Personal stories

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Frequently Asked Questions

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I want to use donated eggs, sperm or embryos. What are some of the things should I consider?

Before using donated gametes, consider:

  • Family. What are your ideas about family? Is genetic connection a priority? Have you taken time and space to grieve the loss of not being genetically related to your child, including physical resemblance and family history? It is important that you feel confident and comfortable regardless of your child’s genetic origins.
  • Your donor. If you know your donor, how might their donating affect your relationship with them? If you do not know your donor, what characteristics (i.e. intelligence, health) are important when choosing your donor?
  • Relationships. What will the donor’s role be in relation to your child? Who and what will you tell your family, friends and, most importantly, your child?
  • Access to information. Consider that your child may want more information about their donor or may want to contact them when they are older. Consider how you would feel if you were contacted by the donor for information or to meet.
  • Legal implications. Understand the legal implications of your decisions here. Seek legal advice before proceeding.

Having doubts and fears is normal. It is important that you think through and discuss any concerns you have. Talking to your partner, close friends or family, known donor, or your counsellor are good ways to explore issues further. You may want to contact a support group or talk to others who have been through it before you make a decision.

Who will be the legal parents and what will the birth certificate state?

Recipient parent(s) receiving the donor treatment are the legal parent(s), responsible for all parental decisions. Donors have no legal rights or responsibilities in relation to the child.

The parent’s name(s) will appear on the birth certificate as the legal parent(s). The donor’s name will not appear on the birth certificate. The Victorian Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages will also mark ‘donor-conceived’ against their record of the child’s birth. When a birth certificate is issued to an adult donor-conceived person conceived from 2010, a second page is attached stating that more information about their birth is available. The second page of the birth certificate can be removed so that it can be used for official purposes, such as applying for a passport, without revealing that they were donor-conceived.

If the donor-conceived person requests more information, they will be informed that their details are on  VARTA’s Central Register. If they did not know previously, they will then find out that they were donor-conceived.

Am I going to be able to bond with my child if I’m not genetically related to them?

One of the most common concerns shared by non-biological parents is whether they will bond with their baby. However, once their baby is born, many say they are surprised by how easily and quickly they bond and how natural it feels.

I am looking for a donor. How do I do this?

Options for finding a donor include using a fertility clinic donor, advertising or using a known donor. If you are using a known donor, consider where, when and how you will raise the topic so that you both feel comfortable here.

I want to advertise for a donor. Do you have examples of advertisements?

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If you would like to advertise for an egg, sperm or embryo donor, you will need to apply for approval from the Health Minister before it is published. This includes sending your draft advertisement for approval to:
Minister for Health
Department of Health and Human Services GPO BOX 4541
Melbourne VIC 3000
Email Address: art.enquiries@dhhs.vic.gov.au

How do people describe their donor to their child?

The language used to describe the donor may vary and can include ‘Dad/Mum’ (coparenting), ‘donor Dad/Mum’, the donor’s first name, ‘special helper’, ‘generous man/lady’, ‘nice egg lady’ or some variation. The use of names; the relationship between parent,  donor, and child; and the donor’s role and responsibilities are  unique to each family.

Will the donor have any parental responsibility for my child?

Recipient parent(s) receiving donor treatment are the legal parent(s) responsible for all parental decisions. Donors have no legal rights or responsibilities in relation to the child.
A common fear is that the donor will not be able to let go of parental responsibility and will want to intrude or interfere with your family. It is important that everyone involved including partners (if any) express how they feel about the arrangement, roles and consent.

I’m in a same-sex relationship. Will my experience be different?

Regardless of the roles in your family, love, commitment and shared values are good building blocks for any family. Most same-sex parents say that while biology can be important it does not affect how they love their children. Gay fathers may not feel the anxieties associated with being a non-biological parent as keenly, or for as long, because they don’t have to deal with issues of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. While for non-biological lesbian mothers, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding can sometimes be difficult and they may experience feelings of grief and loss or feel excluded. Once the child stops breastfeeding, they often say there is no longer any difference between them and they feel more secure in their role and in their relationship with their child.

What can I do to support my family members of friends going through the donor conception process?

Listen to them. Acknowledgement and support go a long way to help non-biological parents feel secure in their role.

Where can I get more help?

Discuss any concerns you have with your partner, close friends or family, known donor or your counsellor. It can also be helpful to contact a support group or hear from others who have had similar experiences.

What is my role in the family going to look like?

Many non-biological parents worry about their role in the family, particularly their role in relation to their child. This can be challenging for some people, especially in same-sex relationships, as there are no established societal norms for their relationship. Some techniques for overcoming this include sharing the practical parenting responsibilities (e.g. feeding and caring) and time spent parenting. Flexible working arrangements (e.g. working part-time, working from home) can help to share the primary-care role.
Regardless of the roles in your family, love, commitment and shared values are good building blocks for any family.

I’m anxious. Is this normal?

Yes, it is common to have doubts, be anxious or nervous. Many of the anxieties experienced reduce or completely disappear over time. Discuss any concerns you have with your partner, close friends or family, known donor or your counsellor.

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