Identity disclosure and information sharing in donor conception regimes: The unfulfilled potential of voluntary registers

Publication Type:
Journal Article
International Journal of Law, Policy and the Family, 2014, 28 (3), pp. 223 - 256
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© The Author 2014. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. This article explores the scope and effectiveness of formal donor identity registers currently in operation in assisted conception regimes in Australia and the UK. In particular, it examines the function of voluntary registers which are intended to fill the gaps left by 'central' identity registers which mandate timed release of donor identity on request of donor-conceived adults. There are three 'gaps' left by central registers identified here: conceptions which took place prior to the operation of the relevant registers; parents and offspring who desire access to identifying information or a means of making contact prior to the age set for information release; and parents and offspring who desire information not available under current registers, specifically, identifying information or a means of making contact with other offspring from the same donor. The article reflects on interviews with a set of 21 parents who had undertaken donor conception in Australia through licensed IVF treatment concerning their understandings of disclosure regimes and wishes for, and experience of, seeking information and contact. Voluntary registers established by government bodies in Australia and the UK have largely failed to deliver benefits, and indeed may offer a misleading promise to users, because they have given rise to such a small proportion of matches. These registers are 'passive' in that there is no outreach to parties not on the register to invite them to join when there is a match waiting there. However, voluntary registers could be reframed and resourced on a more facilitative basis to assist users. I propose that formal voluntary registers could be more usefully remade as 'active' registers, making contact with possible participants and offering intermediary services and counselling to establish and communicate expectations and to offer mediated contact, including contact without identity disclosure. Active voluntary registers could adapt current structures into a more flexible and responsive system capable of operating both prospectively and retrospectively. I contend that this is a better outcome than the current polarization between an inability to access information for many, on the one hand, and proposals such as retrospective identity disclosure without consent, on the other.
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