Lyle speaks with Christian Democratic Party Member of the Legislative Council Paul Green.
Lyle Shelton: Well hello and welcome to another edition of the Political Spot. My name’s Lyle Shelton. Its great to have you with us as we discuss all things political this week. The issue of donor conception and bringing children into the world through assisted reproductive technology or what was called artificial reproductive technology once, is the vexed issue in society and there’s been many articles in recent times of people who have been conceived through donor conception methods, wanting to know who their biological parents are. If they were conceived through sperm donation, wanting to know who their dad was. If they have come about through a surrogacy arrangement where there was egg donation, similarly wanting to know who their biological mother was. These were very deep and complex issues and these were issues before the New South Wales parliament just in the last week or so and the Christian Democratic Party, Fred Nile’s party which many of you will be aware of, was involved in this legislation just last week and my guest today from the CDP is New South Wales upper house member Paul Green. Paul, a member of the legislative council there. Welcome to the program Paul.
Paul Green: Thanks for having me on Lyle. To all your listeners, thanks for having us in your living room.
Lyle Shelton: Or in their podcast, or driving around
Paul Green: Or wherever they may be across the globe.
Lyle Shelton: But Paul it is great to have you here today because your work in the New South Wales parliament last week caught my eye in the Sydney Morning Herald. The parliament’s responding to some legislation trying to provide greater access to genetic information, information about a person’s history, who was conceived through donor conception. Can you just tell us a little bit about what the parliament was doing and how you found yourself involved in this issue last week?
Paul Green: Yes. I hold a position called the Temporary Chair of Committees and of course that is acting sort of as president on occasion in the chamber. Of course when this legislation was completed I was able to sign off on it but all the hard work was done by the chamber and of course in doing that we basically addressed some of the issues that these people, donor conceived people, have some real issues about knowing who they are and where they’re from and so we were able to explore that through this legislation and improve it for those people who need that certainty about who they are and where they’re from.
Lyle Shelton: Paul how long has Australia or New South Wales in your case here, been allowing babies to be conceived through donor conception? How long has this sort of practice been going on and how old are the people that came and brought their complaints to the parliament?
Paul Green: Look there’s various people at different times, people who’ve got their stories, and different parliamentarians seem to have got different stories but my colleague and I, the Reverend Fred Nile, certainly had a constituent who wrote to us saying that she needed to know her identity because it was so important to her. Other donor conceived people wrote in, basically, you know wanting to know the history of nationalities for instance of their donor, their heritage, their language, maybe the colour of the hair or more particular, their medical history and of course, everything that you know that makes them them. So we did have a lot of people doing that in terms of cross-parties who were just trying to make it very clear that that sort of information was imperative for their existence.
Lyle Shelton: So Paul before 2010, these people didn’t even have a legal right to have access to this basic information, did they?
Paul Green: No that’s right. That was part of the contestation of the legislation is that prior to January 2010, people that donated sperm anonymously basically were allowed to keep their information from that history and of course this is one of the biggest issues. After January 2010 obviously there was a notation on those files about who the person was. The complex thing for the legislation was, did we make it retrospective that we give those donor conceived persons the information of those anonymous persons and of course that becomes a very hard debate because when we want to try and honour our word to people and we say, you will never be known, what your doing is In the name of science or in the name of experimentation or in the name of giving someone an opportunity to have a child, you will never be known and so one of the complex issues is that that might be right for that person but then for the person who’s produced from that sperm or gamete wants to know that information for the reasons that I’ve previously mentioned.
Lyle Shelton: So just tell us then, what was it that you achieved, and I believe you worked with the Greens who are not normally fellow travellers with the CDP or with anyone except for the far left of politics, what is it that you achieved to help assist these people with accessing information?
Paul Green: Yeah there’s a couple of things. The CDP works with all parties and I think, you know, right across Australia I think we’ve seen the federal senate for instance where people are saying that the crossbenchers have you know been a hurdle for the government and not being very helpful. Well we see our role as working with all parties so this was a classic case where we’d listened to the opposition and the Greens and there was some like-mindedness on some of those issues that need to be addressed and so we were able to move the government forward to actually get closer to those targets of giving the donor conceived person a bit more attention and sort of a bit more certainty in getting the information that they need if they so choose to chase it.
Lyle Shelton: So they’re not allowed to contact their biological father in the case of someone conceived through donation. They’re not allowed to contact them but they can access some basic information if they were conceived pre-2010. Is that how I read what you guys achieved?
Paul Green: Yeah when it comes to anonymous sperm donation which is under, you know, now against the law in terms of that, following the commencement of the Assisted Reproductive Technology Act which was some time ago as you mentioned, the assisted reproduction technology providers must collect a range of identifying and non-identifying information from donors now such as their name for instance, their medical history, before providing treatment. Then once the child say is born as a result of assisted reproductive technology, the information about the donor is stored on the central data register maintained by the ministry of health. This wasn’t so prior to January 2010. All the treatment clinics, for instance, had that information and what one of the biggest issue was Lyle, was the fact that some of these clinics weren’t being diligent with their information and either had it destroyed or lost it and of course that meant when people were going back to find that information about themselves, about their history, about their heritage, about their medical history, that information was gone.
Lyle Shelton: Wow that’s terrible.
Paul Green: Well you can’t even fathom how deep that loss would be to an individual.
Lyle Shelton: Paul, hold that thought. We’re coming up to a break. My guest today on the Political Spot is the Honourable Paul Green, member of the New South Wales legislative council. We’ll be back right after this.
Welcome back to the Political Spot. I’m talking today with Paul Green, the Honourable Paul Green from the New South Wales upper house, member of the Christian Democratic Party and we’re talking about this vexed issue of donor conceived children and people and the ability of them to have access to basic information about their genetic heritage, who they are, who their real parent was and Paul has been involved in amending some legislation to provide better access but Paul I think you’d agree, there’s still a long way to go to really provide for what should be basic human rights for people to know their biological identity. I mean there really is a problem in general with our donor conception practices in Australia, isn’t there?
Paul Green: Well, that’s it. I mean like anything science you know you’re learning as you go and of course unfortunately with this, as you’re learning you’re actually you know the depth of despair that those donor conceived people are part of that learning process and of course when you’re messing around with anyone’s life, you know that has deep implications and so this was even more so sensitive for this very reason. So the Christian Democratic Party were able to move some amendments to improve the legislation. Normally a statutory review of the legislation would happen every five years. We were able to get the government to agree to bring it on within twelve months and see how effectively the de-identified records are being accessed and of course consider the business case for the centralisation of records. I think that’s one of the most important things that we just said before you went to the ad is that we need to have a centralisation, due diligence on these records. This is people’s lives. This is the clinical side in terms of their medical history and who they are so people have an innate being, in my view, to know who they are and where they’ve come from and so this central database which we’re aiming to get to, would be of incredible help to these people that actually want to go back over their history and find out the data on those things.
Lyle Shelton: Paul that’s a terrific amendment and the fact that you’re getting this reviewed in twelve months to examine it’s ethicacy is great but isn’t there a threshold question? I guess what you’ve been involved in is trying to make a bad situation better but if we’d have known the pain that you’ve heard from donor conceived people and other New South Wales parliamentarians have heard about people just desperately wanting to know who they are, their identity, who their real father was, do you think we would have even embarked on this process of allowing donor conception in the first place? I believe it originated some thirty or forty years ago since this practice began. Do you think we’ve made an error as a society and even unlocking this as a pathway in the first place?
Paul Green: Well once again, you come down to that moral question of you know is having children, is that a right or a privilege and of course that’s an argument that many people have and of course you know in terms of donor conception, there has been many people given the opportunity to have children which I’m sure in their view, would’ve been the most amazing thing in their life. We’ve got to make sure that we don’t continue on the mistakes that have been learnt about losing the history of people so for instance in the bill, they’ve created a new section 22A which allows a birth registration, a birth certificate as many of us know it, statement to include a declaration that a child was a donor conceived child. Of course if such a statement is made on the registry of births, deaths and marriages and they issue a certificate to a person over 18 years of age will basically have an amendment there to state that further information may be available to the person if they wish to pursue it.
Lyle Shelton: Now someone can only access that once they turn eighteen, can’t they? So a child, and often children, and I’ve met a donor-conceived person who was raised by lesbians, by the time she got to the age of eleven she was desperate to know who her father was and she begged her mums, and finally they let her know and she said it was the happiest day of her life. But if you make a child wait until their eighteen, you could be causing a lot of trauma in a child’s life as they look in the mirror trying to wonder where they’ve come from, who their dad is or who their mother is in the case of someone who’s been conceived through egg donation.
Paul Green: Yeah look in those teenage ages, I mean there are some formatal decisions that are being made by a individual, a child you know I mean on another inquiry that we’re looking at the sexualisation of children and some people feel we can just throw anything at them and let them choose and others say no we need to protect them during this very vulnerable time of growth and so you know some people I think at the end of the day, you come back to the parents and I think parents should be mindful that teenage years are so formatable in terms of who am I, why do I exist, or what will I become or what will I be doing or what shall I become in the future years. So having access to that information, I think you’re right. My personal view is that I think you’re right that they should have access to that information in those younger years but at the end of the day I still think it should be guided by the parents of that child of their ability or capacity to cope with that.
Lyle Shelton: I think we all empathise with who are a unable to conceive. Infertility is obviously a very difficult and tragic thing that couples face but overcoming that through anonymous donation whether it’s sperm or egg donation or complex surrogacy arrangements, this does then get into the realm of messing with someone else’s life and their actual identity and up until these laws that you’ve been involved in, people just didn’t have access to that information but now it’s still withheld from them til the age of eighteen. I just think these are just big, complex ethical issues that we as a society perhaps opened a Pandora’s box that we perhaps shouldn’t have.
Paul Green: Well I think we continue with, as we get technologically smarter, more science based. I think we are opening more boxes, and I probably agree with you that some of them we’re sort of leaving ourselves way open for a lot of hurt and pain that comes with that. These occasions now that the box has been opened, we need to draft laws that will help people adjust to who they are and where they came from and I think the sort of amendments we made to this legislation will certainly go a long way to helping people heal, or at least get the answers that they need to get to continue their life and what they have for their dreams and their futures.
Lyle Shelton: Well Paul we certainly appreciate you giving of your time today and the work that you’ve done certainly has improved legislation around this Pandora’s box to make it better for people. I’m so glad you came on the program. I really want people to better understand these complex bioethical issues and what we’re actually doing with people’s lives at this moment and for those who’ve been regular listeners of the Political Spot they’ll know that we’ve had discussion about commercial surrogacy and talking about the pressure there is to lift the ban on that so this isn’t the last we’re going to hear of the pressure to bring children into the world through all sorts of different arrangements that sever them from their mother and father, their natural mother and father. So Paul thanks for helping us understand this issue better and I’m sure we’ll get you back in the future as these issues certainly aren’t going to go away. Paul Green, thanks very much for being with us.
Paul Green: Thanks for having me on.