Sperm donor dad discovers child through net

IF Jennifer Bell’s parents had met first, she might never have been born.

Jennifer, 10, was conceived by sperm donation and if things had taken their intended path, she would never have known the anonymous donor who was her natural father.

But in a bizarre stroke of fate, fluke or fortuity, Jennifer’s mother, Ann, was checking out an internet dating agency when she made contact with a chap who just happened to have donated sperm.

After exchanging emails, they met, compared the secret code numbers they had been given to identify the donation and made the million-to-one discovery that they were the couple who had conceived Jennifer, each without knowing who the other was.

It was lucky for Jennifer that they didn’t get to know each other first because they quickly realised Cupid’s arrow was a little blunt on this occasion and there was no hope for romance.

But the quirky tale of a chance encounter has left authorities in the trio’s home state of Perth in western Australia with a dilemma — how to guarantee anonymity in the information age and whether anonymity is fair on the offspring.

It’s also a salutary lesson for countries that don’t yet have any regulations to govern sperm donation — Ireland among them. Despite a report from the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction (CAHR) two-and-a-half years ago, Ireland still has no legislation covering sperm or egg donation, the use of frozen embryos and other services offered by fertility clinics.

The Department of Health has insisted it is drawing up legislation, but it is not yet known what view it will take on anonymity in sperm donor cases. CAHR said donors should be told a child has been born but not the identity of the child. It stopped short of saying what the child should be told.

Anton Sweeney, of the Adopted People’s Association, said children born with the aid of sperm donations should have the same rights as adopted people to know where they came from.

“When secret adoption started here in the 1950s, everybody assumed it was a clean slate for all involved and the adopted person would grow up happy and content in their new family. It was only 20 years later we found out that everybody was not happy and a lot of adopted people had a need to know their origins. It’s going to be the same with the children of assisted human reproduction.”

Mr Sweeney said as with natural parents in adoption cases, there should be no obligation on a donor to have contact with a child conceived with their donation but the child should be allowed basic information including the donor’s medical history.

“We badly need legislation in this area. At the moment you could set up a sperm bank in the back of a van, go into college campuses giving students €20 for a donation and keep no records and it would be perfectly legal.”

The only Irish sperm banks are those maintained by hospitals for men about to undergo cancer treatment which might leave them infertile. One of the best known private fertility clinics here, the Sims Clinic, offers sperm donation from a donor bank in Denmark where Danish law guarantees anonymity to the donor and releases only basic information.

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