Donor conception in Australia today
The world of donor conception and IVF is moving rapidly.
The science and technology has moved forward but there has also been societal shift in the way we speak about donor conception, the process of donating, and the information we share with donor conceived people.
There can be a lot of misconceptions, but the reality is that donor conception is a fundamental part of Australian life - with 2,500 women in Australia every year giving birth from donated gametes.
This article will cover both the technology and changing attitudes as we have learnt more about the long-term implications for everyone involved, not least the people who have been conceived from donor arrangements.
What is gamete donation and why does it matter?
Gamete donation describes the use of eggs, sperm or embryos from someone in order to help an intending parent or intending couple conceive.
There are many people who need gamete donation in order to help them have a family including same sex families, people having problems conceiving their families or single women who are ready to take on solo parenthood by choice.- A/Prof Peter Illingworth
If it weren’t for donor conception, many people across Australia would not have had the opportunity to complete their family.
It’s also essential for us to recognise and respect that the LGBTQ+ community should have equal access to assisted reproductive technologies, including donated gametes, in order to help achieve their goals of parenthood.
Nowadays, donor conception is carefully co-ordinated to ensure that the long term implications for each participant are always considered.
As a result, we have a careful preparation for gamete donation at IVFAustralia, as well as our sister clinics Melbourne IVF, TasIVF and Queensland Fertility Group, which includes extensive screening, counselling sessions for all involved, as well as providing long term support for both the intending parent(s) and the donor conceived individuals.
Counselling for all involved
Counselling is important opportunity for all the participants in a donation arrangement to think carefully about the long-term impact of the decisions on all their lives. The goal here is to help make sure that everyone in a donor arrangement makes the decisions that are the right ones for themselves and their own families as well as the families they are assisting to contribute. We want to make sure that every donor looks back on a decision to donate with pride and happiness, and not regret.
It is also an opportunity to think about and plan the communication with the future children from donated gametes.
Counselling often extends beyond the required two sessions for each individual involved, since we offer as much counselling as they need to help them feel confident that they are making the right decision.
Potential donors, as well as their partners if they have one, are also required to attend multiple counselling sessions.
The sessions will also cover any legal questions, making sure donors understand that only altruistic donation is allowed in Australia – in other words, they won’t be paid – and that they will have no legal rights or responsibility for any donor conceived child as a result of their donation.
Extensive screening and preparation
In the screening and consultation phase, we always ensure adequate preparation of the potential donor, and make sure any potential health risks are identified beforehand.
The process of donation is very safe, particularly now with egg donors who need to go through medication and a procedure in order to donate their eggs. For example, new medication has been developed to avoid the risk of ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome (OHSS).
Privacy and donor registers
The privacy of all donors is protected until the child is aged 18, however, once a child is born from de-identified sperm or egg donation, in NSW we are required to provide identifying details of the donor to the NSW Health Central Register. When the child is aged 18, they will be able to access this information. Note each state has slightly different rules regarding registers and the sharing of information.
Helpful resources by state:
The importance of openness
Throughout counselling, the intending parent(s) are encouraged to tell their child about their story of conception when they are young, so that they won’t experience a shock when they’re older. We know now that donor conceived individuals find it extremely distressing discovering this fact about themselves, if it was kept from them throughout childhood. This understanding has changed from previous years, when anonymity of the donor was prioritised.
Research also tells us that the earlier you begin telling a child the story of their conception, the more straightforward and stress-free it can be for both the child and the parents. Any previous patient can contact us as their child grows older, to discuss strategies for sharing their story.
We often help families who have been conceived from a donor to make contact through Donor SibLinks, a system that provides both past and present patients who have used our donor programs the potential opportunity to access more details about the number of families and children that have been conceived using the same donor. Our aim is to provide information and possible links for individuals who have a genetic connection.
One in 25 children are conceived via assisted reproduction
There are 315,000 babies born in Australia each year, with one in 25 children conceived via assisted reproduction – from IUI; IVF or ICSI; sperm, egg or embryo donation; to surrogacy. That is one child in every classroom.
Families are created in many diverse ways, and we should understand and celebrate that diversity.
From assisted reproductive technologies, to modern donor conception, it’s encouraging to look at the shift in how we speak about and approach this diversity – and although there is an increased sense of normalisation, there is always room for improvement.
Learn more about our donor program in:
Thanks for reading. If you would like to speak to someone about our donor programme, give us a call at 1800 111 483. We’d be happy to help.