June 13, 2024


Epicurean computer & technology

People born from sperm donations want urgent crackdown on assisted reproductive technology industry

5 min read


Eleni McIlroy has known her whole life she was conceived through sperm donation. But when she talks about her experience, her eyes still well with tears.

She does not blame her parents for the challenges she has faced as a donor conceived person – instead, the ever-growing assisted reproductive technology industry has earned her ire.

Her arrival into the world was born out of tragedy after her parents, who had two children, lost their youngest when he drowned in a river at 13 years of age.

Eleni’s mother was 40 and her father had had a “vasectomy that couldn’t be reversed… but they were really keen to have a second child so that my sister had company in the world.”

They visited a fertility expert in Canberra and Eleni was conceived in 1989 through sperm donation.

The woman, now aged in her early 30s, has had a loving upbringing and said her parents’ honesty about her conception has spared her much of the trauma other donor conceived people have faced.

But her heartache began when she embarked on an investigation into her biological origins, discovering the fertility clinic her parents had engaged had intentionally destroyed records.

“Some [donor conceived people] get told they have three siblings… and feel that they can stop searching… and then four years later, another three pop up.”

Eleni’s donor potentially unaware his sperm was donated

After being “dismissed” by the fertility clinic her parents used, she uploaded her genetic information to several different ancestry databases and was linked to a sibling group.

But that threw up more concerns than it offered closure.

A girl with blonde hair holds a bear and smiles
Eleni McIlroy fears her donor may not have even known his sperm was being used to help her parents conceive.(Supplied.)

Eleni reached out to her donor’s family. They said they did not “see a version of events where my donor could have possibly consented” to donating his sperm at the time.

“So how do I deal with that?”

Eleni has shared her story to put pressure on lawmakers to crackdown on the assisted reproductive technology industry.

“A lot of what’s missing today was also missing 30 or 40 years ago,” she said.

“I want requirements about record keeping, the ability to access the medical records of the donor… and [information] about siblings.”

‘There’s eight of us so far’

A woman with red hair and blue eyes smiles for the camera. 
Helena Seagrott only discovered two years ago that she was born from sperm donation. She has since met her donor.(ABC News: Toby Hunt)

Helena Seagrott began volunteering as the lead representative for Donor Conceived Australia in the ACT after she discovered two years ago that she was sperm donor conceived.

The 38-year-old has since tracked down her donor who has been open to sharing information.

The man told her he was a young medical student at the time and was instructed to leave his sperm on a ledge in a Queensland fertility clinic car park in exchange for $10.

“My donor did that from 1981 to 1986… one to two times a week,” Helena said.

“There’s eight of us so far, but counting, and I expect for the rest of my life… to get the random email: ‘You’ve got another half sibling.'”

Helena has two children of her own with a third on the way, and has become dedicated to ensuring the assisted reproductive technology industry undergoes legislative change to become more ethical.

“Currently there is no counselling provided by the governments or clinics, and what we’re finding is that people do need that support.”

She has called for a national, independent support service staffed by professionals who have been trained to deal with the complexities faced by donor conceived people.

Donations could soon be capped

A blonde woman wearing a spotted shirt stands in front of a building
Labor MLA Marisa Paterson says most other Australian jurisdictions have already legislated  donor conceived registers, but the ACT is lagging.(ABC News: Nick Haggarty )

The ACT government has been expected to respond to a 2021 motion by Labor MLA Marisa Patterson calling for the assisted reproductive technology industry to be reviewed.

The bill has proposed establishing a regulatory framework and a donor register in the ACT.

The member for Murrumbidgee said, currently “it’s all dependent on the industry to do the right thing, and people’s stories show that the rights and interests [of donor conceived people] have not always been put first.”

She said she was aware of a woman who has discovered her child so far has 103 half-siblings, pointing out that there are no limits in Canberra as to how many donations a person can make.

She added that most Australian jurisdictions have already legislated donor conceived registers but that the ACT has fallen behind.

“I think we also need specialised counselling services for this type of situation, and parents need counselling to know what they’re entering into… I think it’s quite urgent.”

As for Eleni, she has pleaded with the ACT government to act to ensure others do not have to suffer the same lack of belonging and closure she has experienced.

“You’re always looking for something that indicates to you where the truth is but it’s impossible to figure it out,” she said.

“An embryo grows into a baby which grows into a human being which has rights.”

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