By Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
A first ever class action lawsuit has been filed by a Canadian woman who was conceived by artificial insemination from an anonymous donor with the hopes of allowing children of these manufactured unions to have access to information about the donor parent.
According to a press release by Arvay Finlay Barristers of Vancouver, British Columbia, the suit was filed on Oct. 24, 2008, by Olivia Pratten, the representative plaintiff, on behalf of all people in the province of British Columbia who were conceived via anonymous sperm, egg and embryo donation or what is called “gamete donation.”
The lawsuit, which was brought against the Attorney General of British Columbia and the College of Physicians and Surgeons of British Columbia, contends that the present law discriminates against persons who were conceived as a result of gamete donation. By contrast, adopted children have, by law, certain legal rights and opportunities to know about their biological parents that children conceived by way of gamete donation simply do not enjoy.
Currently all information from health to identifying information about the gamete donor, can be destroyed at whim by the practicing physician after six years. One woman included in the suit already had her files destroyed.
The lawsuit seeks the immediate and ultimately the permanent protection and preservation of all files related to the practice of gamete donation in the province of British Columbia.
“Farmers have kept better records on the artificial insemination of cattle than the physicians in BC have kept on people like myself,” said Pratten, now 26 years old.
In 2001, she was told that her biological father was healthy and that a “verbal medical check had been done.” The physician, Dr. Korn, gave the minimal information of height, weight and hair color on a piece of hotel stationery.
“The issue of protecting the files and having my right to access their full and complete information is one of principle to me. I’m tired of having to explain or defend my desire and my right to know this information,” said Pratten.
Olivia, along with others in the suit, has attempted to gain information and access of vital health information from various physicians in BC who practiced donor insemination. No one has managed to obtain information and many have been told that the files are destroyed or will be destroyed if further action was taken.
“It is completely unacceptable, if not outrageous that the medical establishment threatens to destroy medical files,” said Pratten.
Not all the donors at Dr. Korn’s clinic demand anonymity. One such donor is Dwight Jones who donated sperm at Dr. Korn’s clinic during the 1970s and 1980s.
“It’s our obligation to the offspring,” Jones said, “and the perception that most donors are seeking anonymity is not correct and certainly no reason to withhold their content decades later.”
Joseph Arvay, co-counsel for Ms. Pratten said: “Our clients seek information that might be said to be of the most basic and fundamental to the human condition. Knowing about one’s biological origin and thus their biological parent’s medical history, may be vital to our client’s present and future health. Nor is it any longer beyond the realm of the probable that this information may be needed to ensure that they do not inadvertently marry one of their siblings. But perhaps, most important, is that knowing about one’s ancestry, one’s very roots, is central to a person’s self identity.”
Existing laws in the United States take a lassiez-faire approach to the use of artificial reproductive technologies (ART) by recipients and donors, says Michelle Dennison in an article appearing in the Spring 2007 Journal of Law and Health.
With the exception of a number of FDA screening requirements for certain genetic and communicable diseases, Dennison says existing laws almost exclusively center around the parentage of children born through these methods, providing in almost all cases that the recipients of the donated gamete are the legal parents of the donor-conceived offspring and that the donor has no parental rights or obligations.
“But there are at least eighteen states that have enacted legislation that will permit donor-conceived children to obtain gamete donor information on court order, based on a satisfactory showing of ‘good cause’ or a similar standard,” Dennison writes.
“In these states, the courts must weigh the interests of the parties involved to determine what meets the ‘good cause’ standard that would warrant disclosure, and determine what information should exactly be disclosed.”
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