PhD Candidature. Commenced 2019

In May 2019 I commenced work, part time, towards the degree of Doctor of Philosophy. I’m working in the Law School at La Trobe University, under the supervision of Professor Fiona Kelly and Dr Steve Tudor.

My research project is entitled An investigation of socio-political factors influencing changes to policy and practice governing donor conception in Victoria, Australia.

That title is a bit dry - and probably doesn’t really grab your attention. So let me try to do that – to grab your attention!

 Sperm donors. Not a topic widely discussed in the Law School where I’m a candidate – or at dinner table conversations…   … maybe?  Or at least not until the past few years …

 Now the topic is getting a lot more attention – especially in Victoria.  

 Clinic-based artificial insemination using donor sperm first happened in Victoria in the 1970’s.   Sperm donors back then were promised that they would be anonymous - for ever.  

 Decades later – in 2016 - that all changed.

Law reforms were enacted which shifted the goal posts well into the game!

The Victorian Parliament passed legislation retrospectively removing anonymity from 1970s and 80s sperm donors.  

 Donor-conceived people born back then are adults now, and many are very insistent and assertive in arguing that it is their right to know about their genetic identity.    The Victorian Parliament was persuaded by the right-to-know arguments, accepting that those arguments took priority over past promises of anonymity. 

 The changed law meant that men who had been sperm donors in Victoria in the 70s and 80s could now be identified, and potentially contacted - by offspring the donors may never have known existed.  

I’m one of the sperm donors from that early era and I was involved in the discussions about changing the law.  This close connection motivates me to want to understand how and why this change to law came about – and it also gives me insights into some of the dynamics which I believe worked to persuade the legislators to make these contentious, retrospective law reforms

I’m seeking out the metaphorical “DNA” on the path that led to the changes in the law. I’ll be doing a deep dive into the documented evidence: law reform inquiries, discussion papers, parliamentary debates.  Importantly too - I’ll be talking to many of the legislators and to many of those who lobbied either for or against the retrospective removal of anonymity.

I want to know what were the factors that led to the tipping point for change?   Why were the rights of donor conceived people favoured, rather than the loud arguments made against the changes.  How did the “perfect storm” of change arise? 

 The answer to those questions will be useful and important:

·      to people who are advocating for removal of donor anonymity – in other states, in other parts of the world.

·      to legislators and law makers faced with decisions about whether the changes made in Victoria should be mirrored elsewhere.

 Important because Victoria is out in front of the world on this issue – breaking new ground!

 My research will allow us to better understand how and why this change happened - and what that can tell us when considering future issues of complex reform of law and public policy.