As the IVF saga plays on with threats by IVF practitioners to challenge in court attempts to limit access to the technology, a young British woman conceived by donor sperm told Australian television viewers of her traumatic search for her identity and genetic history.
Joanna Rose explained to Lateline’s Tony Jones how she and others created from anonymously donated genetic material have been left in limbo by technicians, who refused to accept the consequences of their actions.
Tony Jones: Can you tell us how old were you when you first found out that you’d been conceived by the sperm of an anonymous donor?
Joanna Rose: I was eight years old when I was told.
TJ: And what was that like? How was it for a little girl having to deal with that knowledge?
JR: I guess it was upsetting, but I didn’t really understand what it all meant. All I understood was that it provided some form of an explanation as to why other members of my family were upset. At the time I understood it was an important disclosure and that I needed to reassure everybody that I loved them, particularly my dad, who I do love a lot. But I didn’t understand that that meant I actually came from somebody else and I didn’t imagine what that person would look like or feel like or think like until much later on.
TJ: Over the years as you’ve begun this search, has it become something more than that? Has it become almost an obsession?
JR: I’m pretty cautious of the word ‘obsession’ because it’s usually used in a kind of —
TJ: Negative way.
JR: … derogatory sense, yeah. It’s a burning feeling in my bones to know where they come from and who, and I understand that that doesn’t automatically imply that I would have a good and loving relationship with this person and with that whole extended family, but I’m aware that there are huge aspects of my identity, my self-knowledge, my ancestry, my medical history that I don’t know.
I’d rather answer those questions as soon as possible than live with unanswered questions for the rest of my life, and I’ll do whatever I can to answer them quickly so I can get on with the rest of my life without that vortex.
TJ: Now, you were conceived in the UK and of course there are laws protecting the donors from anyone finding out who they are. What has that meant for you in trying to uncover this secret?
JR: I just want to mention the word ‘protecting’. When you say ‘protecting the donor’, the assumption is, even the assumption of the word ‘donor’, it’s protecting my biological father and biological fathers from the knowledge that their biological children want some form of access to them or about them and it’s protecting them from us just communicating that we would like some information.
They could turn that down, but we can’t even communicate that need at this stage. And that’s immensely frustrating, considering the fact that I have met donors who are equally frustrated …
It’s likely that I have between 100 and 200 brothers and sisters, half-brothers and sisters, and no way of identifying who they are and, yeah, obviously that’s terribly badly thought out and irresponsible on behalf of the medical establishments and the Government to allow a situation like that to happen. That’s why I’m on your program, because I do not feel that responsible steps have been taken to protect people like me, people who are conceived in these manners, reproductive technology, from just, I don’t know, people making profit.
TJ: Do you ever feel that in a way you were part of, or are part of, a half thought-out social and medical experiment?
JR: Absolutely. I’ve always felt like a social guinea pig, an experimental guinea pig.
When I was younger, when I was more distressed about this and I had less contacts with other people who I could relate to and with over this issue, I always thought that if I jumped off a bridge and killed myself, that would be a really interesting statistic.
Now I don’t feel like throwing myself off a bridge, but, yeah, there’s an experimental aspect to this whole thing and what really annoys me, it’s so stupid. Most people know — you look at the history of adoption, you look at the stolen generation, most people care about where they come from and who they are related to. It’s a really dumb experiment to imagine that we’re going to be any different. And nobody wants to know the results anyway.
TJ: So, Jo, when you think this through now, do you come to the conclusion that there simply shouldn’t be artificially conceived children or just that the donors have to be known to those children?
JR: I am absolutely adamant from my experience and from the experience of other people like me that any form of anonymous donation is a violation of our human rights and of our identities. As far as other arrangements are concerned, I have to question the idea of encouraging people to donate their paternity or their maternity under any circumstances, but at least if people had an ongoing relationship with their biological family, regardless of the arrangements, it’s less damage.