"I just want to meet someone that I look like, get to know them." - Ross Hunter.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hi I'm Jenny Brockie, welcome everybody. Ray, you donated sperm in Melbourne in the early '80's?
RAY TONNA: Correct.
JENNY BROCKIE: How often?
RAY TONNA: It could have been once a week, once a fortnight or thereabouts, over a period of about two years.
JENNY BROCKIE: So why did you do it?
RAY TONNA: Look, at the time I was a student, alright, I was, I wasn't getting that much money for being a student and I saw a little ad somewhere on a student notice-board, or wherever, and it said, you know donors required for IVF program.
JENNY BROCKIE: How much did you get paid?
RAY TONNA: It was, it was a token amount, it wasn't a massive amount. I was about 26, 27, I mean I'd already been a blood donor too years before that and so part of me, you know, I'm no saint but I'm an altruistic sorts of person. I felt that I was helping these people and my attitude is if two people really want to have a child that bad that they're going to go through this whole IVF process, which can be quite traumatic and expensive to put it mildly, they're going to make good parents.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you signed an anonymity agreement?
RAY TONNA: Yes, definitely.
JENNY BROCKIE: So it was all going to be anonymous?
RAY TONNA: Yes, at that time"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you have any expectations around it at the time?
RAY TONNA: I - my only expectation was that whatever happened to these children that they would grow up in a good loving family.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you get any counselling?
RAY TONNA: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you would have donated sperm dozens of times?
RAY TONNA: Oh, definitely dozens of times, I mean I was young, I was fertile and I was helping people, you know? I was actually told I had one of the highest sperm counts they'd ever"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: And now you're told people on national television? Paul, you donated sperm in the '80's too but not through a clinic?
PAUL VAN REYK: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: You did it multiple times. Why did you do it?
PAUL VAN REYK: Okay, so the first time I did it was to a former woman partner of mine, when we were in a relationship, it broke up, she asked me if in some future time she wanted to have a child and would I be the father and I'd said yes at that time. The time that she decided to do it, well I'd come out as a gay man, I was in a gay relationship. She recognised that it would be uncomfortable for all of us, for us to have sex in the usual way so we just did it through private donation.
JENNY BROCKIE: So with a syringe or something?
PAUL VAN REYK: Well"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Is that how it was done?
PAUL VAN REYK: Well, she would have used probably a turkey baster or syringe. I think they tried the turkey baster and that didn't kind of work so went back to hypos.
JENNY BROCKIE: But that wasn't the only, but that wasn't the only time?
PAUL VAN REYK: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why did you do it the other times? Was it always to help friends?
PAUL VAN REYK: Yeah, well it became a political thing for me. As a gay man I was involved in a lot of gay law reform and I was in circles where there were lesbians, either sole or in couples who wanted to have children and of course the options for them were to have sex with some man or to find somebody who would donate sperm to them. They didn't want to go through IVF clinics both because of the cost but also because they were coming out of, still involved in a period when, you know, our slogan was "get your laws off our bodies" and this was another place where the law could interfere with a person's body but also their rights, their future and so on.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, what were the arrangements that you had with these people? How many times did you do it?
PAUL VAN REYK: Oh, for donating to lesbians, probably a dozen or so times, yeah. I have had other children from donation as well, a couple who were friends of mine, asked me to be their donor because at that time the man was, had a low sperm count. I did that because they're friends of mine.
JENNY BROCKIE: And did you think about the consequences of having all these biological children?
PAUL VAN REYK: I mean we all talked about what the relationships were going to be and we all understood very clearly what we would expect of each other, you know?
JENNY BROCKIE: What did you expect?
PAUL VAN REYK: It varied with each child because I had different relationships with each of the mothers.
JENNY BROCKIE: Were you paid?
PAUL VAN REYK: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Were there any legal arrangements that you had?
PAUL VAN REYK: No, no.
JENNY BROCKIE: Any documents signed?
PAUL VAN REYK: No, no, we didn't sign is thing.
JENNY BROCKIE: So if anyone had changed their minds about those arrangements, they could have?
PAUL VAN REYK: Yeah, absolutely, yeah, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you know how many biological children you have all together?
PAUL VAN REYK: I know of six, and they may be up to another dozen or so others, but I know of six.
JENNY BROCKIE: Simon, you and your partner actually benefited from this, from Paul's sperm donation. How do you feel about him being the biological father of your daughter, Alexis, who is sitting beside you?
SIMON ROSENBERG: I think it's terrific - very grateful that Paul participated in that conception. It was actually a very easy process and my - Alexis's mother and I decided we really wanted to have a known donor, Paul was happy to play that role but was also very clear that he would be flexible in terms of what Alexis ultimately wanted as well as that's exactly how it's worked out.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you were close friends?
SIMON ROSENBERG: We weren't close but we knew each other and we talked through how it would work, what his role may be. The fact that Paul was prepared to be so flexible was, you know, a really strong part of the deal.
JENNY BROCKIE: But on trust?
SIMON ROSENBERG: Absolutely on trust.
JENNY BROCKIE: Alexis, when you did first find out that Paul was your biological father?
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: I can't remember, I was so small but dad has a story he loves to tell of when I'm learning to talk and Paul comes over and they say oh, Alexis this is your donor dad and I said donut dad? I mean I was, that's me with him there, I was that small. I've always had a relationship with Paul, I've always known he was my donor - it's always just worked out really well.
JENNY BROCKIE: And were you able to wrap your head around that concept as a small child?
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: Not, not at first. In fact, for a while I thought that everyone was conceived with a donor father and that everyone had their own biological father out there somewhere.
JENNY BROCKIE: I suspect you found out that wasn't the case fairly quickly?
SIMON ROSENBERG: Can I interrupt to say that it happened the day that she came home from child care having had an argument with her friends because she told them that all children were created through sperm donation.
JENNY BROCKIE: But it wasn't a problem for you as a kid.
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: I've never had a problem with it and in my experience, when people have a chat to me and they ask their questions, they actually end up really positive about it because I'm so positive about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would it have mattered if you didn't know growing up, do you think?
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: I can't speak for an experience I didn't have, but my experience is knowing who your donor is actually makes you not need to know much about him.
JENNY BROCKIE: Daniel, you've donated much more recently to a clinic in Melbourne in 2008 and 2009. How many times have you given sperm donation?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Well the donation process was a short one, it was a bit more clinical. So you go in, you get counselling, you go through your medical check-ups and the full genetic testing and background and then once that's all passed then you go and donate. So the donations were - I think they're sort of weekly and lasted for a couple of months.
JENNY BROCKIE: And why did you do it?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: As a gay man in a gay relationship, I never really thought that we'd have children in our life, it's not something that I really wanted and I think my partner has no interest in having children. But I wanted to give to other people and help other people conceive. So it's something that's been on my mind for years and I remember reading a newspaper article, would have been in 2004 or 5, saying that there was a shortage of donors and they're encouraging people to come and donate and I remember contacting the clinic and saying I'd be interested in being a donor.
And at the time the clinician or the nurse who was on the phone said to me oh, well do you have a partner and I said yes. She says well you'll you have to come in for counselling with your partner and I said well actually my partner might want to be a donor as well, and she was really uncomfortable at the other end of the line saying well, actually we're not allowed to accept donations from gay people. And then when the Labour government made those changes to the legislation, about 80 changes to acts, well the next morning I was on the phone to the clinic and I think the next day I was there for counselling. I really wanted to do it and so did my partner.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you're both donors, you've been donors?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Yes, yes, we're both donors.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you know how many children you're the biological father of?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Well I've got two. We're not giving any identifying information. However, I know that I've got, I've successfully donated to a boy and a girl and my partner's got five boys. And only recently has one of the recipients made contact through the clinic with my partner and it was anonymous, so again we don't know who it is or who the child is other than a photo and a thank you letter. And it was actually heart-warming to receive that letter and even though it was my partner's child, I had this sort of well up of, you know, fatherly pride. I was walking around the office showing everyone, you know, sort of tearing up saying look, you know, I'm a daddy? So it was actually quite a positive experience in that way.
JENNY BROCKIE: Interesting, interesting reaction. Do you want to have a relationship with any of these children?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Well we've said - both of us, my partner and I have said that we're open to contact before the age of 18 so if the families want to contact us, we're more than happy to have whatever role or whatever contact that we can have with the families. And if not, then we'll wait till the children are 18 and either expect them to contact us or we might take steps to contact them.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you're quite happy to be known"¦
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Absolutely.
JENNY BROCKIE: As the biological fathers?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Yes, absolutely.
JENNY BROCKIE: Were you paid?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Expenses were reimbursed. So formally we're not allowed to get paid so they reimburse you for time and effort, I guess.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how"¦
PAUL VAN REYK: Effort is very important.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hardship?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Hardship.
JENNY BROCKIE: Hardship. How much?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Oh, it just depends on how, because we were travelling in from a regional area and we had to overnight, I'd say, my partner actually says it quite colloquially, he worked himself into an Ipad, that's what he got, you know, out of it. So it's not a lot of money and that's not why we were doing it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Peter, I wanted to talk to you. You run a fertility clinic in Sydney and here's one of your Facebook ads for sperm donors. Can you explain to us how sperm donation works at your clinic and who's eligible and what the rules are?
PETER ILLINGWORTH, IVF AUSTRALIA: Yep. Look, we advertise to try and find as many donors as we can to help the couples and the women who come to us to seek assistance. It's done with voluntary persistence, where it's done with the proper counselling, with careful consideration of the long term implications and I would say that the majority of our donors nowadays are open to contact. They fill out long questionnaires, describing not just the medical stuff but also the sort of person they are. Their interests, what sort of, what their background is, what motivates them, why do they want to become donors.
JENNY BROCKIE: So who passes muster and who doesn't?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: The only things that we're concerned about nowadays are essentially are we passing on any genetic diseases and is there any infection risk to the women who are receiving this donation?
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you rely on trust for that on what people tell you, or do you actually see documents that prove that they're saying is true?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: If there is a story of a medical problem, particularly a psychiatric problem, then we will chase further documentation. But if somebody comes to us and says I'm healthy, I've never had anything wrong, then we won't do any background checks, we will accept that as the truth. We will do genetic testing, we will test their chromosomes and test for common genetic diseases but other than that we are dependent on people telling us the true as we always are.
JENNY BROCKIE: And age, do you do you have age limits?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: We do. It is a generally recognised fact that as men get older there's a greater risk that their sperm will carry genetic disease and so as a consequence we do not take donors over the age of 50.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you get many donors?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: We do, we get a reasonable number of donors.
JENNY BROCKIE: How many a year say?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: We do see about forty to fifty donors a year in general.
JENNY BROCKIE: Forty to fifty?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: Forty to fifty. Now remember in New South Wales nowadays we're only allowed, for very good reasons, to create four families with any one donor's sample. So we do need a lot of donors to meet the needs of people who are seeking treatment from sperm donation.
JENNY BROCKIE: So does the demand outstrip the supply?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: Yes it does.
JENNY BROCKIE: And do you import sperm?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: We do but we are very careful to ensure that where we're using donors who are based in other countries, that we ensure that we have their long term contact details. We ensure that they are screened in the same way as they would be for any Australian donor.
JENNY BROCKIE: Adnan, you run a series of fertility clinics across Australia as well, similar practice - do you import sperm as well?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC, CITY FERTILITY: Yeah, we import sperm. Similar to Peter we will only import sperm if we have exclusive use of that sperm for the reason of monitoring families and again they must meet all of the Australian standards. We're all required to follow those standards.
LAUREN BURNS: So how can you guarantee that the donors' identity details will be available in perpetuity, in the US there's no legislation guaranteeing that, there's no central register, even a statement of consent forms are clinic based, there's no overarching legislation that can guarantee that in the US.
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: I think the reality is in most of Australia that legislation doesn't exist either.
LAUREN BURNS: Well it exists in Victoria, New South Wales and Western Australia.
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: It does but it doesn't exist everywhere.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Lauren, hang on, we've got a lawyer here, let's get her version. Sonia, I know you have looked at the laws around this, I mean what are the rights of the donor to start with in terms of when they donate sperm. Can they be anonymous in Australia?
SONIA ALLAN, DEAKIN UNIVERSITY: Okay, there's - it depends on where are you and that's very clear. So that is very true, there are different laws in different states and it also depends on date because different laws were passed in different states at different times.
JENNY BROCKIE: What's the situation now in terms of - for a donor, can a donor be anonymous anymore?
SONIA ALLAN: Not in Australia. Western Australia, Victoria, New South Wales, all have legislation saying that a donor must consent to having his or her, now, because it's egg donors as well, information recorded and that that information will be released upon request when a donor conceived person requests it at 18, or earlier in some instances. Across the rest of Australia there are National Health and Medical Research Council Guidelines so as of 2005 they require clinics to basically all across Australia guarantee the same.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, this of course, we're talking about here a situation where people go to a clinic to do this?
SONIA ALLAN: Exactly, exactly.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul's situation doesn't fall under this at all?
SONIA ALLAN: Very different.
JENNY BROCKIE: And Scott, yours doesn't either, you're a sperm donor but you've bypassed the clinics to join an on-line site. Why?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: Well, I met - well I always had thought that nobody would choose me for an IVF clinic so I chose a private arrangement through a website so I could, I could pass on my genes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why did you think no one would choose you from a clinic?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: Well, my understanding was that people are looking for well educated people that have had degrees and that kind of thing and me being that I've only done limited tertiary education, that they wouldn't choose me because of that reason.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why did you want to be a donor?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: Because I'm an only child and my father was an only child and my grandfather's an only child so I felt it was important to pass on my genes.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how does it work with the on-line site? How does that system work?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: We just, she got in contact with me just through email and then we exchanged contact details and we just, every month she just gets in contact with me and she asks me to donate and I go along and donate to her.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you pay, do you pay for this, do you pay for the"¦
SCOTT MACKENZIE: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: -- for using the site at all?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: And does she pay you?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: No, she doesn't, like she doesn't even reimburse me but I'm quite happy for that.
JENNY BROCKIE: And has she asked you about any inherited illnesses or genetic conditions or anything like that?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: No, not at all. I did mention that there's a history of glaucoma in my family but so far I haven't had any signs of it myself.
JENNY BROCKIE: Adnan, how do you feel about on-line sites like this for sperm donation?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: I have grave concerns about them, mostly around the counselling issues. The actual medical risk to the donor and the potential conceived child, the risk of HIV disease, the risk of other diseases that can be transmitted is real.
JENNY BROCKIE: Scott, do you have a partner at all?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: No, I don't, I'm single.
JENNY BROCKIE: Are you expecting or hoping to have contact with the child or to have any relationship with this woman?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: Um, I have considered whether we could have a relationship and we do, we do have quite a bit in common, but she, she's not looking for a relationship and she's told me that. Yeah, I'm quite open for a relationship if she wanted one.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would you like to have contact with the child?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: Um, I'm happy to leave it up to the mother and the child. But it would make me happy if the child chose to be part of my life.
JENNY BROCKIE: And what sort of arrangements have you made with the woman? Has there been any kind of agreement that you've made or any documents you've signed or anything like that?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: Yes, there was a written agreement. It's not a legal contract but there is an agreement that I wouldn't ask for custody and she wouldn't ask for money from me for child support.
JENNY BROCKIE: Will you be on the baby's birth certificate?
SCOTT MACKENZIE: No, it will be unknown, as a father.
FEMALE: Can I just ask something? How much are people paying for sperm because it sounds like she just got free sperm.
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: Around the $300 mark would be my guess.
JENNY BROCKIE: So around $300 to get sperm from a clinic?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: Correct, yes but that's not - you're not technically buying the sperm. It's a service fee as such which includes far more, I mean you're not technically just purchasing sperm as such.
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Jenny, I wanted to say something about that situation, I find that quite interesting because through Victoria we can donate up to ten families, so when we won't through counselling we were told that we should limit to say eight and that's what we initially did.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why were you told you should do that?
DANIEL MAINVILLE: Because as people find out that we're donors they might want us to be donors direct to them. And so we were telling people we were donors and a few of our friends approached us and said you know, we would be interested in you being donors for us.
JENNY BROCKIE: This business of who's on the birth certificate interests me. I mean in your case were you, well you wouldn't have been on any birth certificates Ray?
RAY TONNA: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: Paul, were you on birth certificates?
PAUL VAN REYK: Yes.
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: Not on mine.
JENNY BROCKIE: Not on yours?
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: Well I'm the only one of Paul's known donor children who had another father.
SIMON ROSENBERG: So I'm listed as the father on the certificate.
JENNY BROCKIE: Right, okay, and by law is that how it works?
SIMON ROSENBERG: That's it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Whoever is decided to be the father can be the father on the birth certificate?
SIMON ROSENBERG: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about sperm donation, Ray, in February this year you got a letter from the Registry of Birth Deaths and Marriages requesting that you make contact with them urgently. Why?
RAY TONNA: That first letter, there was very little detail in it. It just said there there's an urgent matter and we need contact you and that's basically it and phone this number.
JENNY BROCKIE: So this is thirty years after you've donated sperm anonymously?
RAY TONNA: Exactly, exactly.
JENNY BROCKIE: What did they tell you?
RAY TONNA: Well they said, you know, they asked me if I, you know, were you a term donor in the early '80's and I said yes, yes, yes and whatever. They said well, we have someone who wants to contact you and suddenly the light went on in my brain and I thought oh, my God, I've got, you know, I've actually got an offspring from my donations.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did you feel about that?
RAY TONNA: It was a sort of a beautiful shock.
JENNY BROCKIE: So even though you'd been anonymous there were clearly records and someone had found you?
RAY TONNA: Exactly, after all, thanks to the intersection of Ted Baileu.
JENNY BROCKIE: The then Premier?
RAY TONNA: The then Premier. Wherever you are Ted, thank you very much - seriously.
JENNY BROCKIE: Why did he take this up?
RAY TONNA: Narelle Grace Greck, my beautiful donor conceived daughter, I consider her my daughter too. She had spent fifteen years searching for me. She was basically given the run around. Finally, when Ted heard that, at that stage she, Narelle had been diagnosed with fourth stage bowel cancer which is basically a terminal situation and out of the goodness of his heart Ted Baileu said that's it, find this man, contact him, get them together.
JENNY BROCKIE: When did you make contact with her?
RAY TONNA: I got another letter on the 11th where I had to just, you know, give all my contact details and"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Were you aware she had cancer at this stage?
RAY TONNA: No, all I knew was there was this wonderful person out there who, once you realise that you have someone out there who has your biological material, even though you haven't seen them for X amount of time, I've just felt instantaneous unconditional love, which I still feel to this day. She came to visit us in Ballarat, and as soon as she got out of the car I just said: My daughter, let me hug you and I just hugged her straight away and I just"¦.
JENNY BROCKIE: When did you find out she had cancer?
RAY TONNA: I mean her being the selfless sort of caring person that she is, and sometimes I still speak of her in the present tense because for me she always will be, anyway, it was not till maybe a week after we first met and then she eventually, you know, told me, days, well about a week later, whatever. I just wanted to take every day at a time and try and get to know her as much as possible because I had thirty years of memories to catch up with her, you know?
JENNY BROCKIE: This is her going through some photos.
RAY TONNA: Yeah, yeah, that's a photo of our son there.
JENNY BROCKIE: They've got the same hair do?
RAY TONNA: Well they have the same dad, or the same genetic material, I'm not supposed to call myself dad. She called me papa Ray.
JENNY BROCKIE: How long did you have with her?
RAY TONNA: Six weeks basically and that was it. And she's just absolutely one of the most amazing people I have ever met.
EUGENE: Did she tell you why she wanted to see you?
RAY TONNA: Eugene, she'd wanted to see me for fifteen years. She was told when she was about fifteen years old that she was donor conceived and hello, she was curious. Wouldn't you want to be - wouldn't you be curious if you were told suddenly at the age of 15 that, well, the person that you thought was your dad, who was a loving person, don't get me wrong and she loved him, no doubt about it. But she also realised there's this other person who helped to make me and she wanted to find me.
LAUREN BURNS: It’s all about the parents telling the children they're donor conceived, yeah, because they probably don't know.
PAUL VAN REYK: One of my children has never chosen to make contact. I don't think we can assume that every donor child is going to want to know who their parent is. She's obviously really happy with the two that she has.
JENNY BROCKIE: Amy, you're nodding your head over there, aren't you? Why are you nodding so?
AMY CORDEROY: I'm one of those donor children who's just never had any interest in knowing my biological father.
RAY TONNA: That's your right for sure?
AMY CORDEROY: I can see how much it means to other people but I think that also when we're having these discussions. That puts a lot of pressure on donor conceived children I think to feel like there is this really meaningful important relationship there. We don't want to pressure children into feeling that they do need to know the father.
JENNY BROCKIE: Was your mum up-front about you being donor conceived as a child, how did you find out?
AMY CORDEROY: Yeah, as far as I can remember I always knew, but I didn't know who my donor was. So it was"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: And it's not a big issue for you?
AMY CORDEROY: No, no, it's not, and I think, my mum was adopted and so for her, her biological parentage was always quite a big issue for her and she was really interested in who her biological family was and I felt well, you know, what's actually important in this relationship to me and I realised it was very little.
JENNY BROCKIE: Interesting.
PAUL VAN REYK: So how would you feel if the donor dad tried to make contact with you?
AMY CORDEROY: He did actually a couple of years ago and I said that I would prefer not to meet him. I just felt I didn't want to get into a situation where there was an expectation on me to act out the role of someone's daughter.
JENNY BROCKIE: Interesting, very interesting. Ross, you were conceived with donor sperm. When did you find out?
ROSS HUNTER: I find out about four years ago, almost exactly, it was just after Geelong won the grand final in 09 so that was a special moment. But I don't have great expectations but at least with Paul's offspring, they at least know that he's a man, he has a name, he has a picture. It might seem like a trivial thing to some people but that would be a lot. All I have is an A4 bit of paper with scant non identifying information. So his height, his blood type, eye colour, hair colour, that's all.
AMY CORDEROY: It fascinates me that we have this idea of our genetic heritage and how important that is to us. I don't really see what the meaningful information about you or your life you would get you out of knowing more about him and I wonder, you know, what do you see as the sort of important thing to know?
ROSS HUNTER: Well, it takes genetics and environment and I think it's belittling both parts of that to put either one down, where a combination of both. You want to find someone that you look like and when you don't look like people from your family, and I've got children, 9 and 11 years old, and they ask you questions oh, where are you going tonight dad? Because we have a donor conception support group and I'd say yeah, we're going to the league of extraordinary gammies. I tell them it's a secret society, are you a part of a secret society dad? Yeah, my cape's out the back. So they ask questions and I didn't want to be a part of this cycle of being complicit in something that wasn't entirely true and I only found out four years ago and it's a big shock.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did you find out?
ROSS HUNTER: Well mum told me that she was going to tell me something really important and I just knew what it was.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did you feel about finding out as an adult?
ROSS HUNTER: Well she had prepped me just, and I actually started to think about this and I kind of pieced things together and worked out this could be a real probability. I just want to meet someone that I look like, get to know them. Work out where some of my proclivities and skills and vices come from. It's just a part of life.
AMY CORDEROY: See I think we put too much emphasis on genetics in terms of understanding our own personality.
ROSS HUNTER: I agree in society we do, we're way to genetically deterministic in society. I mean it's more an existential quest just to find out where I came from.
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: I mean the difference I see is where you lied to or not. Like you and I both knew we were children of sperm donation, you didn't know your donor father, I did, but if you've always known that it's normal, nothing about your reality changes. Whereas you've had your reality changed and that's when I think it's more of a betrayal. You need more information and we need to facilitate that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, what about you, how old were you when you found out that you were conceived with donor sperm?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: 28.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how long ago, a decade or two?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: Ten years ago.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how did you find out?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: The short story is that I just found out through snooping through my parents' computer.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did it affect you and how did it affect the way you viewed your parents?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: It challenged my sense of identity very, you know, profoundly. I am increasingly comfortable with it. Ten years ago I wasn't and I felt I'd been betrayed by the people, look, they were doing their best and I think in the '70's it was probably a bit of, you know, it would be best for me not to know. I think they were doing what they thought was best for me.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did it affect your relationship with them?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: Yeah, it did. I felt deeply betrayed and I couldn't understand why it had been kept a secret.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you talk to them about it?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: At all?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: No, not for a long time.
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you tell them you knew?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: No.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how long did you keep that secret? Did you tell anyone?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: I told my sister about a year later because that was important for me to share. We, you know we've always been close, there's just the two of us, she's younger and from a different donor which made us half siblings which was a shock as an adult. What it made me do initially was go back and rewrite my entire history because everything had changed.
JENNY BROCKIE: I'm just really interested in what you were saying about not telling your parents?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: Look, my knee jerk reaction with my parents was well you didn't tell me, I'm not going to tell you, it was a kind of like"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Revenge in a way?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: Yeah, and it's childish and I needed to grieve I suppose.
JENNY BROCKIE: So how long was it before you told the parents that you knew?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: I told my sister and she told them, I believe in not an ideal way, I think it was in a bit of a heated moment so it kind of came out. So we acknowledged over the phone that we knew but we didn't talk about it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Have you talked about it since?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: Yeah, this year.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ten years later?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: Yeah, I flew home because it had - it had been troubling me and I needed to make peace with it because I, because I found out very limited, I found out there was problems with conception and there was a donor and I didn't know a lot of very important things about - that something they'd gone into it together and there was something that, you know, my father supported my another in. I'd made, because I didn't know I assumed the worst and I assumed the betrayals were not just towards me but you know.
JENNY BROCKIE: That your mum had gone off and done it and without your dad knowing?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: Yeah, for some reason that's how I interpreted what I read.
JENNY BROCKIE: So do you know who your biological father is?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: No, no, I don't. I made a little bit of an effort. I was in touch with the university and the hospital and in the case in South Australia I think the laws there are stronger than anywhere else to protect anonymity and I was met with about two or throw different stories. One was all the records have been burnt in a fire or that they were moved, I mean there was repro for a while and you know, it's all sort of bureaucratic. It's"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you want to know?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: It's a needle in a haystack.
JENNY BROCKIE: Do you want to know?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: I would be fascinated but it doesn't, it's not actually something I think about that much. I did for a long time but I think for me it was about - what was more important was making peace with my parents, who are - I mean my dad is my dad, I don't feel like I need to find my biological father although I'm fascinated by, you know, does he look like me? Is he musical? Is he, you know? I'm a singer and a pianist and I just know I didn't get it from my real father so I'm sort of fascinated about the nature versus nurture, like it's fascinating.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lauren, how did your mum tell you about being donor conceived?
LAUREN BURNS: She told me when I was 21 years old in a pre-planned conversation and I think it was something that had been weighing on her very heavily for a long time before that because she's naturally an honest person that doesn't enjoy lying or secrets.
JENNY BROCKIE: How did you react when you heard?
LAUREN BURNS: I think that the sense of reality almost shatters and you have to, as Michael was saying, reassemble the picture of yourself and it's interesting hearing all the different takes on it because I almost feel like it's in the movie "The Matrix" when you know, you get this sense of your identity shattering and it's will you take the blue pill and just continue as before and be like yeah, mum, dad that's my reality, or will you take the red pill and actually see how deep this rabbit hole goes and see what else is out there.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well you've taken the red pill plus some because you're an activist, yeah, around all of this?
LAUREN BURNS: Yeah, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: And I just, I mean I know you found our biological father a few years ago, how long did that take to find him and how did you do it?
LAUREN BURNS: Yeah, it was an extremely arduous process. It was extremely frustrating. I felt very disenfranchised, disempowered that everyone was telling me that I had no say in what I considered to be, you know, this very important piece of my genetic identity.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what was it like for you meeting him Lauren?
LAUREN BURNS: Yeah, it was a really, it was an immense relief for me, that's how I would describe it. It turns out that we actually have a lot in common. When we all sat down, so I went down to visit him after David Decretza, who was the Governor of Victoria at the time was actually my mother's treating doctor so that was how I made contact through approaching him and making this bizarre meeting at Government House.
JENNY BROCKIE: We've got a Governor and a Premier involved so far.
LAUREN BURNS: Yes, exactly it takes people in these sort of stations to make this happen because that's how difficult, you know, it is for us.
JENNY BROCKIE: So when you met him what was it like?
LAUREN BURNS: Yeah, it was, really, it was real relief because there was so much about myself which I could see reflected in terms of looks, personality and interests. It was just really interesting to see that we had a similar sense of humour and this kind of intrinsic understanding of our personalities, we both spilt food down our tops when we eat, we're messy eaters. But yeah, it's really important that all donor conceived people have access to information so that we don't discriminate with different group, different states different ages. The only fair thing, the only tenable position is just to allow information where it exists to all donor conceived people.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sonia, what rights do donor conceived children have to information at the moment?
SONIA ALLAN: Not everybody has equal rights in law. It depends on which state you're being born in. There are no guarantees if you are a donor conceived child in Queensland that you have any legal right to information. You have guidelines that say that the clinic should be facilitating that information exchange but there are no guarantees that that will occur. Victoria says that it must occur. New South Wales now says that it must occur. We hear that, you know, I think the clinics are actually, some of them are coming on board and actually facilitating that happening. I don't think that is the case across the board.
JENNY BROCKIE: And there are proposed changes in Victoria and there's debate around the changes. What's the most controversial change that's being proposed?
SONIA ALLAN: The most controversial change, was to release information to all, or enable all donor conceived people to apply for information but to allow a donor the option of imposing a contact veto so that if he or she, he, didn't want contact, rather than the release of information, that they had some control over their own privacy. But I would say unfortunately the Victorian government has actually responded to that and said that they're not willing to go that far.
JENNY BROCKIE: But that would be because people like Ray donated on the condition of anonymity, wouldn't it?
SONIA ALLAN: Yes, on the belief that they had anonymity.
PAUL VAN REYK: Well not a belief, I mean either they were told it was going to be anonymous or they weren't and I don't think it's fair to suddenly then have a law that said well too bad, we're going to change that now.
MALE: Anonymous now.
PAUL VAN REYK: No, no, but it's a big fear.
JENNY BROCKIE: But he was never anonymous?
PAUL VAN REYK: I was never anonymous but I don't think you can now say to somebody who thought for whatever way that they were getting anonymity, sorry, you don't have it. I just don't think that's fair.
AMY CORDEROY: A lot of arguments that are made in defence of children getting access to the information at the expense of what these men have, you know, been promised or, you know, thought was happening, I think are pretty bad arguments. If you're a donor conceived child who grew up in a family with parents, you have an identity, you have a culture. You don't need to be given access to information that someone might not want to give you to give you that identity. I just don't think it's a good argument.
JENNY BROCKIE: Lauren, quick comment from you and this idea of, you know, people do one thing under one set of rules, why should the rules change on them thirty years later?
LAUREN BURNS: Sure, a couple of points. Basically, in all other aspects of law the rights of the child are placed as paramount. So for instance the Family Law Act can compel, where paternity is in dispute, a man can be asked to undergo DNA test. In adoption, all records were opened to all people, regardless of assurances of anonymity given to relinquishing parents once again because the principle, the best interests of the child was paramount was applied.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you think the interests of the child should be paramount in this situation, that the child has the right to know.
LAUREN BURNS: Well I think we need to be very careful in that we actually differentiate between information and contact and they're two separate issues, and we're talking about people's genetic identity and there was actually no, there's no law and never has been in Victoria or New South Wales guaranteeing donors’ anonymity. I think we've got a complex sort of tangled issue now that it was wrong of doctors to lead men to believe that that was the case when it wasn't because basically each clinic was acting unilaterally about that promise without actually having the legislative underpinnings to be able to keep it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Ray, would you have donated sperm if you had thought thirty years later that the anonymity thing might not exist?
RAY TONNA: My attitude is that all these children should have the rights to make up their minds whether they want to contact me or not and if they do, I'd be more than happy to meet them.
JENNY BROCKIE: Adnan, you were wanting to say something about this debate?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: I feel somebody has to be an advocate for parents here. I think the thing that's forgotten here is these people are undergoing fertility treatment - it's an incredibly stressful procedure to undertake. You couple that with a man who finds out that he's unable to fertilise an egg, it's a devastating thing for the actual father to find out. So sometimes I think we have to be cognisant that these parents aren't hiding anything from their children. They are actually struggling emotionally where their life has taken them.
I'm a scientist by background so I view this very much as genetic material. I'm very conscious, and this is my personal belief, that you aren't the father of this child, you are not the parent of this child. You are providing genetic material and granted I'm actually a real supporter of the child having access to information but I think we do have to be aware that these parents are making very, very difficult decisions that aren't as simple that as soon as the child's eight years old, can understand, we'll let them know.
JENNY BROCKIE: And how would you feel about the idea of retrospective, any kind of retrospective changes?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: Personally I don't like retrospective changes. I mean we talk about this as this is somehow science that is absolutely guaranteed that all donor children want to know this or that. If you look at the research"¦
LAUREN BURNS: That's not what we're saying at all.
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: But if you look at the research there is no, in my opinion and look, I haven't read it all but I've never read definitive research saying that these children must know this information.
JENNY BROCKIE: Peter, what's your reaction to the idea of any kind of changes? I mean we know the Victorian government has rejected this idea but it's still being discussed?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: It often comes down to the fact that the donor does not want to - given it thought and talked to his own family about it, he does not want his identifying details released.
LAUREN BURNS: Well, that's when you have to have a compromise.
PETER ILLINGWORTH: Well it's difficult to see how handing over identifying details is really much of a compromise - that's the trouble.
JENNY BROCKIE: Kelly, your 19 month old son Wyatt was conceived using donor sperm, here he is. We have a picture of him here. How did you choose the donor?
KELLY OSTERBERG: Oh, look, we, we were given five profiles and from those profiles I think the most important thing for us was health first. And then after that we decided we would pick someone who was the most like us.
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: It would be easier.
KELLY OSTERBERG: If he was the most like us it would be easier for him.
JENNY BROCKIE: What do you mean like us? In what way?
KELLY OSTERBERG: In terms of, because we had information about educational history and interests, sporting interests, you know, we had a whole range of information.
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: Hobbies.
KELLY OSTERBERG: Hobbies.
JENNY BROCKIE: So what, did you get a folder of people? How does it work?
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: We got two sheets, so like you get these pdf documents emailed through to you and there's two pages and they've all got the same questions on them. And I guess, I guess one of the most compelling things that came out was the reason for donation.
KELLY OSTERBERG: Yeah, that was really important too.
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: So the first person we read we both said to each other do we need to read any more?
JENNY BROCKIE: What was so perfect about the first one?
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: Perfect in a number of ways.
KELLY OSTERBERG: He had really similar interests to us and a background to us and was healthy and he, his reasoning for donating, the other ones didn't say anything but he said to enable lesbian couples to have a family.
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: That was it for us.
KELLY OSTERBERG: And it was like, you know, he was just, he was so similar to us and we went straight back to the first one that we read.
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: And I think one of the other things was because we got the ethnicity, one of the things that we were concerned about was we hoped that by the time our child gets to school and we're seeing shifts and changes all the time for gay families and lesbian families and it's fantastic that we're moving in the right direction but one of our concerns was that we don't want our child to stand out more than they have to.
KELLY OSTERBERG: Because they're already going to stand out having two mums.
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: So we wanted them to, I guess, be as similar to us as we could.
KELLY OSTERBERG: Just to reduce the difficulty for him later.
JENNY BROCKIE: And you're using the same donor again?
KELLY OSTERBERG: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: To try to have a second child?
KELLY OSTERBERG: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: So you're trying again at the moment?
KELLY OSTERBERG: Yes.
JENNY BROCKIE: Adnan, how do most people decide which sperm donor to choose?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: At the moment we might have 40 or 50 donors and there is option paralyses. A lot of our donors, again"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Option paralyses?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: Option paralyses, we do, again because it is changing, society is changing, we're dealing with a lot of same sex couples now. Historically couples would look for somebody to match the husband. Now it's a case of matching, as you said, family history, likes, interests, education levels, so some women will make a decision very quickly or couples make a decision within a day. Others will take a month.
KELLY OSTERBERG: Ours took five minutes so we thought we better wait for an hour before we emailed back.
JENNY BROCKIE: Peter, can donors put restrictions on who their sperm goes to?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: Yes they can and it's actually a very sensitive ethical issue that's been tossed back and forward quite a number of times. In New South Wales the legislation was quite overt that the legislation gave the donors the right to discriminate with the use of their donation. They took the view that donate sperm was a gift and therefore the donor of the gift had the right to choose which sort of family it went to.
There are donors who will say look, I only want my sperm to go to a family where there's a male partner in the family and there are some reasons for that. There are other donors who do have prejudiced views and old-fashioned views, but the effect of that is if "¦
JENNY BROCKIE: What if a donor came and - what if somebody came to you and said I don't want my sperm to go to a black person or I don't want my sperm to go to somebody who isn't white.
PETER ILLINGWORTH: Yeah, yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Would you agree to that?
PETER ILLINGWORTH: We would, we would accept that. Now as much as it would, would stick in our throats to do that but we would accept that and in practice, we have not had a racist sperm donation in all the time that I've been involved in it.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about other things like religion?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: Well personally I'm a Muslim and I had a couple say to that me directly. Like this can go to any couple other than a Muslim couple so I found that a little bit challenging. But look I"¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Did you agree to that?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: No, we've got a solid pool of donors now. If somebody wants to discriminate we just won't accept that donor. It's just not worth it for us.
JENNY BROCKIE: So where do you draw the line on what discrimination is?
ADNAN CATAKOVIC: As Peter says it's pretty rare. It's usually lesbian couples, and I haven't had a racist comment or a religious background, they're usually the only two, and recently we've been getting a few that are asking for non-smokers, that's a debate we have quite regularly, but other than that.
JENNY BROCKIE: Kelly, what will you tell Wyatt or what will you both tell Wyatt?
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: We think it's extremely important that it's parts of his story from the beginning. I don't think it's much that we can hide, because clearly we couldn't do it naturally. So it is part of his story, we called the donor dad biodad and "¦
JENNY BROCKIE: Biodad?
BIRGITTA OSTERBERG: Yeah.
JENNY BROCKIE: Sounds like a laundry detergent? Would that approach have made any difference to you do you think, Ross, if the approach of your parents had been that approach from the time you were born?
ROSS HUNTER: There has been quite a few studies, Cambridge University has done long longitudinal studies looking at donor conceived people and their wellbeing. Those that have been told early and the overwhelming consensus is that it's better for the psychological wellbeing of the child to find out earlier.
JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, you were upset when you found out your parents' secret. Would you rather have known as a child?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: I know that ideally I would have found out by my parents telling me, I know that would have been preferable, but would I have grown up better at knowing? I don't know.
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: Well, I did grow up knowing and I"¦
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: I grew up in the '70's and '80's so I would have been a special strange. I mean these days it doesn't matter.
ALEXIS ROSENBERG: I guess what I want to say it doesn't change your relationship with your father. Like I have a great relationship with my dad, I mean you know, as far as I know it's the same as any father has with his daughter. You know, he looked after me as a child, you know he helped put me through uni, he taught me how to drive. I mean like he's my dad and knowing that Paul helped create me didn't change that, you know? I love Paul too as someone who's related to me but it didn't change my relationship with my father so I don't think that we should lie to children if we don't have to.
JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, just quickly, yes.
MALE: I was just curious does anyone know or are there any official records of how donor conceived children there actually are in Australia? Are we talking 50,000, hundreds of thousands?
JENNY BROCKIE: Do we know?
SONIA ALLAN: No, when you look at the statistics and there's no, there's no official statistics but it's estimated at somewhere between 20 and 60,000. So it's a very broad range depending on the statistics you use.
JENNY BROCKIE: If you had your time over again, Ray, would you do it the same way? Would you do it again?
RAY TONNA: Why not, why not? Because at the end of the day, if we're helping people bring these sort of children into the world what's wrong with that?
JENNY BROCKIE: Michael, would you do it, would you be a sperm donor?
MICHAEL GRIFFITHS: I've been asked very recently and it would be in a different circumstance where it's with a friend and it would be not a secret and I would.
JENNY BROCKIE: What about you Ross?
ROSS HUNTER: No, I wouldn't do it because I've got children of my own and just the attachment that I have and just what I've been through personally being separated from my genetic material, yeah, I wouldn't do it.
JENNY BROCKIE: Well thank you very much everybody for joining us tonight and for sharing your very personal stories, we really appreciate it. Thank you gentlemen, really good to have you with us and you can keep talking on-line. Go to our website, Twitter or our Facebook page.