Donor anonymity legislation – a moral quagmire

Ethicists and doctors have slammed recently passed legislation in the Australian state of Victoria that will revoke the anonymity of sperm donors.

Under new regulations specified in the The Assisted Reproductive Treatment Amendment Act, children of sperm donors born before 1998 can access the information about their donor, including their name, date of birth or ethnic background, without the donor’s consent.

No anonymous donations were permitted after the 1st of January 1998; before then donors could chose to donate on the condition that their information would be withheld from potential children.

Guido Pennings, professor of ethics and bioethics at Ghent University, decried the changes, calling them ‘disrespectful’, ‘unfair’ and ‘immoral’:

“Retrospective legislation on donor anonymity is morally wrong because…it implies that the donor is solely used as a means to serve someone else’s interests…in essence, it is a form of abuse of power by the government…the autonomy of donors and recipients is expressed in their informed consent. Unilateral changes afterwards violate the donors’ and the recipients’ autonomy. It makes their consent null and void.”

Tony Bartone, the Victorian president of the Australian Medical Association, said the new legislation undermines patient confidence in informed consent procedures:

“These patients underwent a medical procedure – donating sperm and eggs – and were given explicit and implicit assurances that their donations would be anonymous”.

Victorian health minister Jill Hennessy said information about identity could make a huge difference in the lives of donor-conceived Victorians.

“We believe all donor-conceived people should have the right to know about their genetic heritage, no matter when their donors donated.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.