Changes to donor laws that were adopted by the Victorian Legislative Council in 2015 were enacted this week, and if the news is anything to go by, I can express initial support.*
As of March 1st, Victorians can access information regarding their donors and heritage.
The Age has published the story of Katherine Vowles, a 26 year old Melbourne musician. At the age of 11 her mother told Katherine that she had been conceived with a sperm donor.
“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.”
“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 Basic Human Need
One of the many commonalities every human being shares is the existence of a mother and father. We all have a mother and father; life would be impossible otherwise. For most of us, we know and love our mum and dad. For some, one or both parents have caused us great harm and pain, and this knowledge continues tear at us and to bring tears. Others, such as Katherine Vowles, have not know one of their biological parents, whose identity until today remained a secret.
I am grateful for the fact that I do know and was raised by my biological parents, and so because of my own experience it would be presumptuous to assume what is likely to be multifarious thoughts and desires among those who have not known their biological parent(s).
As the story in The Age expresses, it is understandable and even natural for children wanting to know their biological parents, and for the Governmental to remove obstacles is positive, although understandably not all children will take up the opportunity, and no doubt some parents will be apprehensive at the prospect.
No Escaping Nature
I want to focus my comments on 2 unexpected but important corollaries from this change in law:
Firstly, when it comes to children and parents, we cannot escape biology. There may be good reasons why such a separation occurs, and there also be unethical reasons, but we know that time and space and anonymity are not sufficiently strong to break that bond between parent and child.
We should therefore resist establishing societal structures that build family units which depend on removing this link between a child and their biologic parents. This is very different from the example of adoption or foster care, whereby society is practicing a retrieval ethic, that is, making the best out of a bad situation. It is important for Australians to realise that as we tinker with definitions of marriage, for example, we are creating social units that cannot naturally create human life, and therefore necessitate removing a child from one biological parent.
Secondly, the Government, on this occasion at least, makes it clear that the rights of children outweigh those of a parent, albeit a donor parent. Health Minister Jill Hennessy says the Government recognises the issues pertaining to peoples anonymity, but have decided that children learning their parents names is more important than the rights of a donor.
What this shows us is that no matter how hard society tries to fashion relationships and marriages in whatever form we want, we keep finding ourselves going back to that which we should never have left. If the design is good, we should not play with it.
But there is one more thing that needs saying, and in some ways it is more important than these first two points:
The story of the Bible does not end with the ‘normal’, as though affirming and experiencing the normal pattern of family is the prerequisite for knowing God, and you’re damned to hell if it is otherwise.
While the Bible presents a consistent view of marriage and of the family unit, and notably it is this understanding that remains paradigmatic today, it also describes many other families. Some of these families speak of unenviable and difficult circumstances, and yet from them we read beautiful stories of grace: Abraham and Hagar, Jacob and Rachel, Judah and Tamar. These stories are not normative and neither are they suggesting to us alternate ways to create family, but rather they teach us that such scenarios are not the end of the line. Those family relations were not ideal and some clearly immoral, but God was not stumped by them, and through human error (and sin) he showed grace and love.
Society functions best when we encourage family structures that enable children to be raised by their biological parents. As far as I understand the changes to the law, the Government has made a good decision, although I appreciate the difficulties attached for both children and donors. As good as all these things may be, there is something even better, and it is not dependent upon biology or family, and neither is it an alternative to these relationships. In a world where familial identity and relationship may elude us, there is possibility of relationship that surpasses even the most loving and secure family:
“For he [God the Father] chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will” (Ephesians 1:4-5)
It is seriously worth pondering these words for a moment. We may search for lost parents, lost siblings, and children, and we long for these holes to be filled and questions answered. There also exists a need and desire to be reunited with God, and this awareness is as basic and innate to human beings as is our need for familial love and relationship. Consider those words from Ephesians in the Bible: to be known and welcomed and loved by God is the greatest joy and satisfaction anyone can experience. It is beyond the scope and power of any Government to achieve this, but it is not beyond God who has come down to us in Jesus Christ and calls us to come back to him.
*I should preface my comments by acknowledging that the field of sperm, egg, and embryo donation is thwart with ethical concerns. Unfortunately, these are beyond the scope of this post