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14 July 2011
Sperm donation is not 'just like giving blood' it has real-life and long-term consequences for the donors, the donor recipients and the donor-conceived individuals, 2011 Churchill Fellowship winner, 2011 Georgetown University Global Health Law Fellow and Deakin University Senior Lecturer in law Dr Sonia Allan passionately argues.
Dr Allan will spend the remainder of this year and part of 2012, in the US and Europe on her two fellowships, firstly in Washington working with world renowned experts in global health law where she hopes to focus upon public health law issues for women and children amongst other health law related subjects; before travelling to the UK and Europe to study how other countries have managed the issues around sperm donor registration and information release to donor-conceived individuals.
Dr Allan described how the Georgetown Fellowship will allow her to study at Georgetown University Law Center, participate in an internship at one of the top health institutes in the world and to explore how and when it would be possible to use women and children in research and the protocols required to make it safe.
"While I am in the United States I will be representing Deakin as well as working under the guidance of some of the best health law scholars in the world," she said.
" I will also have an opportunity to present the research I have been doing in Australia on assisted reproductive technologies and donor conception.
"This will provide a nice lead in to the Churchill Fellowship.
"The fellowships respectively give me a terrific opportunity to continue to build upon my knowledge in health law, and to further investigate and advocate for the donor conceived individuals, the recipient parents and the donors who wish to be able to exchange information concerning genetic heritage."
The Churchill Fellowship is a progression from Dr Allan's influential submissions last year to the Victorian Parliament Law Reform Committee Inquiry into Access to Information by Donor Conceived Individuals about their Donors and the Senate Committee Inquiry into Donor Conception, Access to Genetic Information and Donor Identification.
The Senate recommended that national, or uniform legislation, allowing access to information be enacted as 'a matter of priority' and that a national register be set up to allow information exchange.
Dr Allan's path to working as a health-law academic started with her training and employment as a psychologist. She has since maintained a health-law focus, whilst becoming an expert in assisted reproduction and the law.
"I moved from psychology into the law with a view to developing a health law focus and being able to affect social change," she said.
"I was interested in developing an understanding of how the law plays a role in regulating science, and how good regulation can help achieve a healthy world – physically, mentally and socially.
"Both my undergraduate honours thesis and my PhD looked at various aspects of the Regulation of Research Involving Human Embryos and Cloning in the United Kingdom and Australia.
"Whilst studying for my PhD in 2003 I became aware that the Victorian Law Reform Commission was holding an enquiry into access to assisted reproductive technologies.
"I contacted them, and went to work for them for two years on that reference.
"It was here that I first met donors, recipient parents and donor-conceived individuals, and that my interest in this area developed."
After finishing her work with the Commission, Dr Allan found that she continued to be contacted by recipients, the donor conceived or donors themselves to help advocate that laws be passed to enable them to find or give information concerning their genetic heritage, donor-siblings, and the donor generally.
This issue had not been addressed by the Victorian Law Reform Commission, and Dr Allan felt that it was one of the most important issues that needed attention. She was happy to assist.
"It's not just the donor recipients asking for access to information, but the donors themselves wanting to give their information.
"Parents of donor-conceived individuals also want information so that they can be open and honest with their families.
"It struck me, that in all the studies and talk of donor conception, it was the individuals that are brought into being as a result, that were the least considered of all.
"This failed to recognise that some donor-conceived individuals want and need information about their genetic heritage.
"Often it is ignored that it is in fact these individuals, their families and some donors that are asking for this information to be made available!
"As people have entered their 20s and 30s and had their own families, this call seems to be getting louder.
"Whilst not all people may want information, it is unreasonable to deny access to information to those who do."
Recognising that the issues are many, varied and complex, Dr Allan said it wasn't about making donors into fathers. They carry no 'rights' or 'responsibilities' and are not the legal parent of the donor-conceived individual(s).
"Rather, it's about exchanging information," she said.
"Sometimes it's as simple as donor-conceived individuals and their families wanting a name to call the donor other than 'donor' or 'xxxx'.
"Whether a relationship develops from there will be decided by all individuals involved.
"The Churchill Fellowship will allow me to learn about laws and practices in jurisdictions that have regulation requiring that information be recorded and released to donor conceived individuals.
"I am interested in learning about what works, and what doesn't, and the cultural milieu that lies behind such legislation.
"Hopefully my research can in turn feed into regulation and practice when Australia sets up its own national database as recommended by the Senate inquiry.
"I am extremely grateful to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust for making this possible."
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