Associate Professor Fiona Kelly was an invited speaker at the Law Council of Australia’s National Family Law Conference at the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre on 19 October.
In a presentation titled “Parenting Disputes of the Future?”, Fiona discussed the family law implications of early contact between the donor-conceived children and their sperm or egg donor. The presentation was based on a recent qualitative study Fiona conducted with single women who had engaged in ‘donor linking’, the process whereby donor-conceived people, donors and/or recipient parents seek access to each other’s identifying information.
An increasing number of Australian parents of donor conceived children are identifying and making contact with their child’s donor(s) prior to their child turning 18. This process can be achieved in Australia through either formal or informal mechanisms. Three states support donor linking through legislative means, enabling a child to access his or her donor’s identity when the child reaches the age of majority, or earlier of a parent applies. In states without statutory mechanisms, donor linking can be achieved through informal mechanisms, such as online donor registries, social media searches, direct-to-consumer genetic testing, and fertility clinics which act as intermediaries between donors and recipients. International research indicates that single mothers engage in donor linking at higher rates than any other groups who use donated gametes to conceive. The study conducted by Associate Professor Kelly suggests that this is also the case in Australia. Early contact with donors was extremely popular among the single mothers interviewed and more than two thirds had made contact with a child’s donor relative prior to the child turning 18.
Despite the popularity of donor linking among single women, little attention has been given to the possible family law implications of the practice. Case law suggests that donors to single women may be legal parents. At the very least, they are able to apply for time with the child. Yet none of the women interviewed, even those who had engaged in statutory linking, were aware that making contact with their child’s donor might pose some legal risk to their parental autonomy.
An article based on this study is forthcoming in the Medical Law Review.