New law opens doors for donor-conceived
The Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment bill 2015 passed in the Legislative Council of the Victorian Parliament which will give all donor-conceived Victorians the ability to access identifying information about their donors and heritage from 1 March 2017, without donor consent.
The man known only by a three-digit code is six foot one with green eyes, and skin that doesn't burn in the sun.
He was born in Australia to Polish parents in the late '50s or early '60s. As a young man he worked as a "print room manager" while studying flight navigation in Melbourne. But that's where the records end and the mystery begins.
He is also the biological father of 11 children conceived in Melbourne between 1985 and 1992 - seven boys and four girls, at least one of whom has been actively searching for him for half a decade.
With changes to Victoria's egg and sperm donor laws that come into effect from Wednesday, stripping donors of their anonymity, that search may finally be over.
Musician Katherine Vowles, 26, was 11 years old when her mother told her she was conceived at a fertility clinic, with the help of a sperm donation.
"As I've gotten older I've had more questions because of things like medical history, heritage, life interests and life goals, the who am I stuff."Katherine Vowles
They were later able to access three de-identified documents, above, that provided some very limited information about the man Katherine now refers to as "my donor".
These included a job description, sports he played (basketball and hockey), basic details about his parents' ancestry and medical history.They learned he'd donated sperm more than once, and was aged 18 to 24 in 1983.
He had scribbled "yes" to a question that asked if he wanted to know if any pregnancies resulted from his sperm.
Katherine was four when her mother married. Her mother's husband already had a son and, in every way that matters, this is her family.
But as a young girl, the possibility of half siblings, especially sisters, was tantalising."I imagined all these different versions of myself," she said. "When you're a little kid you want to find all these brothers and sisters because you want to hang out with them."
Curiosity grew into a personal mission about a decade later, in 2012, when Katherine moved from her hometown in regional South Australia to Melbourne, where she was conceived.
"As I've gotten older I've had more questions because of things like medical history, heritage, life interests and life goals, the who am I stuff," she said. "I wondered if he was into music, if he was any kind of creative."
The only new information she could get was how many other babies had been conceived with the same donor's sperm. "I had a lady on the phone ... she had the file with his name on it but she's just not allowed to tell me anything," Katherine said.
A law change in 2015 meant donor-conceived children could try to contact their donors through the Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages; but the donor's identity would only be released with their consent.
The registry was unable to locate Katherine's donor, and a letter she had written to him went undelivered.
"They've said he is still alive but they can't find any way to contact him," she said. "That's the scary thing, he could be walking around in Melbourne and so could all of these kids and we could have mutual Facebook friends."
From today donor-conceived offspring born before 1998 no longer need consent to get the identity of their donor through the Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority, which now has responsibility for managing donor conception registers. Those born after 1998 already had this right.
VARTA has been resourced to provide support for donors, offspring and their families, as well as access to a specialist service agency with greater abilities to locate donors, said its chief executive Louise Johnson.
"Obviously there's no guarantee that we will find information, particularly where the records are very old and information simply can't be found, but we will have some capacity to make inquiries and to search for information where it isn't currently available," she said.
Ms Johnson urged donors, especially those who were anxious about the changes, to contact VARTA. They can access support and establish contact preferences, which can include no contact. Donor-conceived offspring who have signed an undertaking to access their donor's information, face fines of up to $7500 if they contact a donor against their wishes, including the manner in which they contact them.
Health Minister Jill Hennessy said the laws had taken into account the fact these donors provided egg or sperm believing they were doing so anonymously; and had created an even field regardless of when a person was conceived.
"For too long, the rights of donor-conceived Victorians to access information about their donor has been based on arbitrary timeframes," she said. "This inequity was unfair, and that's why we created one rule that applies to all."
Within months Katherine is very likely to know the name and birth date of her donor.
Until then the picture of this "mysterious figure" in her head is made up of all the physical characteristics she does not share with her mother - a more angular face, stronger features.
She imagines he may have become a pilot and could be living overseas. She wonders if he knows about the children, and if he ever told anybody about the donations."I've got all these questions and any answers from him are going to be welcome," she said.