Narelle Grech, 28, was conceived via a sperm donor; recently diagnosed with bowel cancer, she is desperate to find her biological father. Photo: Craig Sillitoe
Should the children of sperm donors have the right to know their fathers?
THE journey to find out where she came from started more than a decade ago for Melbourne social worker Narelle Grech.
At the age of 15, Ms Grech's parents told her that she had been conceived through a sperm donor - news she has been trying to deal with ever since.
''Since I found out, I've been really curious to know who this person is, and then as I got older it became a whole lot bigger than that. It became about searching for my whole paternal family and those missing pieces that make up a lot of who I am,'' she said.
Who's Your Daddy?
Ms Grech, now 28, became even more determined to find her donor a few months ago, when she was diagnosed with bowel cancer and needed to learn more about her genetic and medical history. But despite multiple attempts get information through the doctor who helped her parents conceive her, she's had no luck.
Across town, Paul (who did not want his surname used), also wonders about his family tree - but from a different perspective. A long-time blood donor, Paul, 59, decided to donate sperm in his mid-20s after separating from his first wife. Each Father's Day, he wonders what became of the four children he helped conceive through donations in 1978.
Now remarried with two adult children, he has registered his details with the Victorian voluntary register of donors and donor-conceived children, but has received no replies.
''When I donated, it had to be completely anonymous - I had to sign a document saying I wouldn't try to find the kids,'' he said. ''But I have often found myself wandering around looking at kids of about the right age, wondering who they are, how they are going, whether they need a hand.''
The question of whether donor-conceived children should have the right to access their donor's information (or vice versa) has always been a vexed issue; a balancing act between the right to privacy versus the right to know.
State Parliament has now re-opened the debate, as part of a broad-ranging inquiry by the law reform committee. The committee chairman, Liberal MP Clem Newton-Brown, said the inquiry would consider the legal and practical issues that arose if all donor-conceived Victorians were given access to information about their donors, and their donor-conceived siblings.
At present, the law varies depending on when the donation was made, resulting in a ''three tiered'' system. Victorians conceived using sperm donated after January 1, 1998, have unconditional access to information about their donors. Those conceived using sperm donated between July 1, 1988, and December 31, 1997, can access information about their donors if their donor consents. But those conceived before 1988 don't have the right to access, because donors have been granted anonymity.
For people like Ms Grech, the laws are frustrating and heartbreaking. For many donors, though, this is how it should be. Some were university students who made a donation for money; others did so for altruistic reasons and now have their own families. It is often argued that providing donor information could unfairly complicate their lives or risk making them financially liable.
Law Institute of Victoria president Caroline Counsel said the law should not allow the release of the personal details of either party without their consent. ''You cannot say after the event, 'We are going to superimpose a new regime of disclosure.' I think that is an abuse of an altruistic act,'' she said.
But film director Roger Clarke, who donated his sperm in the early 1980s, takes a different view.
Mr Clarke gave consent for his information to be passed on to his offspring. A few years ago he met Riley Denham, the 22-year-old man he helped create. The pair now consider each other as ''mates''.
''It was his lifelong ambition to meet me, so on his 18th birthday his mum and dad gave him the file,'' Mr Clarke said.
Mr Clarke said he understood most donors would want to remain anonymous, but thinks there could be a ''halfway point'', where non-identifying information, such as medical information, is accessible.