Who’s my father? Australia law ID’s once-secret sperm donors
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — For Peter Peacock, fate arrived in the form of a registered letter.
The letter looked to be a bit of a letdown. Peacock had gone to the post office expecting an aviator jacket he’d ordered online. The Australian grandfather tore the envelope open as he walked to his car — at which point he stopped dead in his tracks.
“Dear Mr Peacock,” the letter began. “The Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA) has received an enquiry of a personal nature which may or may not relate to you. The matter concerns a record held in relation to a project you may have assisted with at Prince Henry’s Institute.”
Prince Henry’s? The Melbourne clinic where he’d donated sperm nearly 40 years ago?
There could be only one reason for such a letter, he thought. Someone out there had come to life through his donation.
His mind raced. How could this person even know who he was? He had been promised his donation would be anonymous.
And for decades it was, until a new law in one Australian state gave the offspring of sperm and egg donors the legal right to know who they are, despite promises of anonymity.
Which is why a week after receiving that letter, Peacock found himself staring at a photograph of a woman named Gypsy Diamond, whose face looked so much like his own that he felt an instant and overwhelming connection.
“God almighty, I looked at it and I thought — ‘Bloody hell. I can’t deny that girl,’” he says. “She was my child from the start.”
Behind Victoria state’s donor identity law, which took effect in 2017, was a quest for the truth by people whose lives began in a lab. In its early days, the sperm and egg donation industry was swathed in secrecy, leaving some children desperate to complete the puzzle of their identity. They also wanted to know their family medical histories.
Some countries, including Australia, have now banned anonymous donation. But Victoria is only the second jurisdiction in the world to impose a law retroactively stripping away anonymity without the donor’s consent. Switzerland was the first to do so in 2001, but many donor records were destroyed.
Under the law, donors do have the right to demand that their offspring not contact them. Anyone who violates a contact veto can be fined 7,900 Australian dollars ($6,000).
Ian Morrison, one of Victoria’s 2,000-or-so donors who were assured anonymity, is angered by the law, and worries that the people seeking their donors haven’t considered the feelings of those who raised them.
“If they’re expecting to get two big happy families, that ain’t going to happen,” he says.
Gypsy Diamond’s quest to find her donor began when she was 21, after her mother abruptly told her that her dad was not her biological father.
For years, the curiosity about her heritage gnawed at her, but little information was available.
One day in April 2017, her phone rang. It was Kate Bourne, a counselor at VARTA.
“Are you sitting down?” Bourne asked. “I’ve just got off the phone to your donor.”
Peacock, a long-divorced 68-year-old, had no idea whether contact with Diamond would alter his peaceful life.
He had become a donor in a bid to help others have the child they’d always wanted. He donated around eight times, received $10 a sample, and used the money to buy a new set of power tools.
“I gave because I thought I was going to do some good somewhere,” Peacock says. “The drill was a bonus.”
He was curious, so he agreed to an e-mail correspondence with Diamond.
Bourne called Diamond to deliver the news. Diamond quickly found Peacock’s Facebook profile. Her heart raced. She had never seen anyone who looked so much like her. She sent an email and two photos of herself.
Peacock, too, was stunned by their similarities. Both love Shiraz and antipasto, cheer for the same football team, and share a cheeky sense of humor.
“I can see so much of yourself in me... especially the eyes,” Diamond wrote. “I’ve never felt anything like it.”
He asked her if Gypsy Diamond was her real name. She assured him it was.
“If I was going to make one up to contact my donor,” she wrote, “I probably wouldn’t choose one that sounded like a porn star.”
Both worried about how the news would affect their families. Peacock’s older daughter eventually struck up a friendly correspondence with Diamond, but the younger one was unsettled by the emergence of Diamond, 36. “I’m not the youngest anymore,” she told Peacock.
Diamond feared confusing or upsetting her own father, who had early-onset Alzheimer’s. When she finally told him about Peacock, he seemed to take it well.
One question still nagged at Diamond: Was Peacock also the biological father of her brother?
Diamond asked Peacock to find out from VARTA whether any other children had been created with his donations.
In August last year, his phone rang.
“Are you sitting down?” Bourne asked. He wasn’t. She continued: “There are 16.”
Peacock sat down.
Besides Diamond and her brother, there were another 14 unknown adults wandering around with his DNA.
Legally, he could request their identities. But if he did, they would be notified. Most children conceived from anonymous donations are never told about their heritage. Peacock couldn’t imagine dropping such a bomb on them.
He decided that if any of his offspring come looking for him, he will welcome them into his life. But he won’t seek them out.
Peacock and Diamond met nearly a year after their first emails, in March at a car show. Both were jittery. Peacock told Diamond to search for the good-looking bloke with the red and white umbrella. She could size him up from a distance, he said. If she walked on by, no hard feelings.
When Diamond spotted him, she steeled herself, then made a beeline.
Peacock looked up and saw her. They grinned and embraced.
Soon, they were chatting like old chums. Diamond’s husband eventually joined them, along with her sons.
She didn’t tell her children who Peacock was. At 8 and 5, they are too young to understand.
But for her, Peacock is family, even if she can’t define his role.
“I know that he’s just going to be a big part of my life,” she says. “Where it goes from there, I don’t know. I don’t really have a name for it.”
Peacock feels the same.
“I’m not her father, I’m not her uncle, but I’m still part of her,” he says. “She is a part of me.”