Thursday, February 19, 2009

Barry Stevens' BIO-DAD

[From Diane Allen of the Infertility Network]

A man born of artificial insemination searches for his biological father - and takes a look at the brave new world to come. 


February 26, 2009 at 8 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT) on CBC TV

CBC is proud to present BIO-DAD, an E1 TELEVISION documentary that follows the quest of Barry Stevens, one of the first people produced by artificial insemination, as he sets out to identify the anonymous sperm donor 

who produced him and hundreds of Stevens’ unknown half-siblings a half century ago.  
 The film, which is set to premiere Thursday, February 26th, 2009 on CBC at 8:00 p.m. (8:30 p.m. NT)  is a DNA detective story, full of twists, turns, and big surprises. Along the way, Stevens (who previously made the award-winning “Offspring”) discovers a brother, who joins him in his search – and before long, more family than he knows what to do with.
Stevens also takes us into the controversial world of making babies through science instead of sex in Bio-Dad. “As we’ve just seen in the news, quite elderly women can have babies and a young woman can have octuplets,” says Stevens. “Thousands regularly choose their baby’s sex, and some children now have five parents. Our culture is having trouble dealing with this -- but what’s coming up is even more challenging: a near-future where two men could have a biological baby (or two women), where working artificial wombs can be developed and where already we have the technology to modify humans, even adding non-human genes. It may be just a matter of time before people do it, take control of our evolution and enter a post-human world.”
Often forgotten in the rush to the future are the rights or needs of the children. And many of the first wave of donor offspring are furious.  Stevens documents the emerging political battle for the rights of those offspring to know their genetic origins – which has resulted in a ban on anonymity of donors in several countries, including the UK where he was conceived. And an angry backlash elsewhere.  
Bio-Dad, which was written and directed by Barry Stevens, always makes this important public story personal. Stevens, with his sister and new brother David, uncovers the origin of sperm donation in their search for their own donor. He is obsessed by the man who selected the donors, an eccentric and pioneering scientist and Jewish refugee who worked in a time when eugenics was widely accepted. He begins to find new evidence that this man himself was his biological father, driving his search into new adventures.
All along his journey, Stevens introduces us to extraordinary characters. There’s the ‘exhumation consultant’ who plans to help him dig up a suspect, the DNA detective who has pioneered a way to read his father’s name from the DNA itself, the 94-year-old inventor of earwax remover who may be Stevens’ father, the California doctor who hopes to be able to sell genes for height, longevity and math ability for his patients’ kids. And we meet a growing clan of people, all related through a mystery masturbator, who discover a new kind of family.  
After many disappointments and surprises – Stevens himself discovers he is also a bio-dad and his newly discovered daughter joins him in the search! – Stevens closes in on the mystery and finds the identity of the man they never knew, the man from whose loins they all sprang. And both he and his brother David have to come to terms with having twin fathers, both social and biological.  
Bio-Dad is a roller-coaster detective story about the meaning of family and the genetic tie, told with humour and compassion. It is the first film to take a look at the brave new world to come from the point of view of one of its first children.

For further information:
Lisa Wookey  
E1 Television, Head of Marketing
Tel: (416) 646-2400 EXT 326

Monday, February 16, 2009

C'est la vie...

Well, results are in.

The DNA test that I was so damn sure was going to be a match - came back negative..........

It's strange, you know, every other DNA test with possible fathers and siblings I found myself grieving almost immediately upon receiving the results, even though the similarities were just not there.  It was as if I knew I needed such a miracle that I spent so much time ruminating on all the possibilities that my heart got completely and utterly broken by the end.  

One DNA test in particular while I was waiting for the results I started getting cold feet and almost was wishing for it to be negative because I had had negative results before, I knew the drill.  I knew what to expect and how I would feel and that I would eventually get over it and get on with my life.  But if it had been positive, oh god...the reprecussions I cannot even imagine.  I had no set routine for a positive result.  It was seriously outside my comfort zone, as much as I want to find him, maybe I was not ready.  My family already disagreed with my searching, so how would they have taken me finding my biological father?!  But also, how would I feel?  I mean, in a way it's scary - so many things could happen to ruin the fantasy in your head about your father, and the truth can sometimes hurt.  

However, once the negative result came back and he called me to tell me, I heard him crying...yes, a grown man of 45 years old was crying because he so desperately wanted to find his offspring and so desperately wanted me to be his daughter, and it did not happen.  I then realized just how much I had lost and I broke down.  I cried because I felt that it was my wishing for a negative test that karma somehow kicked me in the ass.  I cried because once again that dream was ripped out of my hands at the last second.  I cried because I realized that I may never find him, and I cried because if I ever do he may never care for me and want me in his life as much as this man obviously did.  

So after the supposed fanfare of this past test, I feel strangely okay.  It feels surreal, like I had in my head that she was my sister and this test was only going to confirm what we already knew, and that the news is a faraway fleeting thought that is not reality.  I don't even think I've truly grieved, other than getting slightly choked up when I called her to tell her the results.

Strangely enough, my hurt is not that it came back negative but rather than she is no farther along in her search than she was before (still no donor number and no other resources left) and I had to put her through yet another emotional roller coaster ride.  

It was not OUR decision, as you might assume, but rather MY selfish decision.  After being contacted by Identigene about writing for their new blog, I told them about her and I and all the struggles we've been through and that we couldn't afford the test, and I asked them if there was any way that they would be able to do a DNA test for us pro-bono.  I never in a million years expected anything, but it turned out that they were thrilled to try and help us out!  I was elated, but the problem was, I did all of this without contacting her because I wanted it.  I never took into account all that she had already been through with her search this past year, and if she even wanted to do a DNA test!  So when I told her she was excited, but now I wonder how much of it was fear, fear for her own emotions.

So I feel guilty for dragging her into this without her complete consent, so if you're reading this, I'm sooo sorry.  

I'm also guilty that I even went to Identigene asking for such a lofty gift.  I NEVER would have asked for it if I hadn't been 99.9% positive that we were sisters!!  My gut instinct told me that she was, and call me impulsive, call me delusional, call me whatever you want, but I never expected a negative result.  So I'm sorry to Identigene, and especially to LJ and Kate because they were so supportive and were so hopeful for a match, and I feel like I let them all down.

So have I grieved or not?  To me, at least from my experience, I need to let it go by crying, spilling tears helps me wash away the experience and help me get on with it.  I haven't done that.  I've sat in this emotional purgatory for the past week with the knowledge in front of me but no emotional attachments behind it.  

Is it my guilt that is denying me the ability to grieve the results?  Is it because I/we were not fully prepared for the test, is that why I can't accept the consequences?  Whatever the case, I feel like a ghost of my self, going through my days but not really living.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Happy Birthday to my father

Today is my biological father's birthday.  He's turning 48 years old.  I know so little about him, but this is one thing I was privileged enough to learn last year.

I wonder what he is doing for his birthday.  Is he spending it alone?  Is he spending it with a wife and children?  Is he working so hard that he forgets he's even turning 48 today?  Are his parents, my grandparents, alive to call him or visit him and wish him a happy birthday?  What is he going to wish for when he blows out his birthday candles on his cake?

These questions are only the tip of the iceberg for me, and yet, they're the basis of one of the only concrete facts I have about my father.

I want to know what he likes, what he dislikes.  What his favorite sport is.  What his favorite book is.  What he does for a career.  Does he have children.  Is he married.  Is he divorced.  Has he ever really been in love.  Does he love to travel.  Does he love science and medicine.  Is he religious.  Does he love animals.  Does he love the ocean.  Does he have a taste for spicy ethnic foods.  Does he like to cook.  Is he a perfectionist.  Is he left or right handed.  Does he love thunderstorms.  Does he drink tea.  Was he popular or nerdy in school.  Was he an athlete.  Where did he grow up.  What was his favorite childhood memory.  Did he have a good or bad childhood.  Does he love his family.

Why did he give away his children by selling his sperm for seven years?

Does he think of the 
children he created from donating his sperm???  Or does he see the newspaper articles and television segments and ignore them, putting those thoughts out of his head???  

Does he want to be found??  Does he want to look??  Would he accept me as his daughter??

I'm sure one thing he's not thinking about today is his lost biological daughter.  But I am.  

Happy Birthday Father.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Attention Missouri Offspring and Parents

[From Kathleen LaBounty]

Cynthia Davis, of the Missouri State Legislature is looking to ban anonymous donations in the state of Missouri and give all donor-conceived offspring the right to access the donor's identity at age 21.  
She is hoping to have a hearing about her bill (HB355) within the next three months.  She is looking for donor-conceived people and their families from Missouri to speak there.

If you are from Missouri and would be interested please email Cynthia Davis.


Summary of the Introduced Bill
HB 355 -- Sperm and Egg Donations

Sponsor: Davis

This bill allows an adult child born as a result of a sperm or egg donation to obtain identifying information regarding the donor by requiring the name of the biological parent and the donor parent to be shown on the child's birth certificate. The State Registrar will file the original birth certificate in the event the non-donor parent requests a new birth certificate. Unless contracted in writing, no legal relationship will exist between the child born as a result of a sperm or egg donation or the child's parent and the child's donor. In the event of a birth as a result of a sperm or egg donor, any person or entity required to file a birth certificate must send the Department of Health and Senior Services documentation of the birth including the child's name, sex, and date and place of birth; the biological parent's name or other parent's name; and the donor parent's name.

An adult child of a sperm or egg donation made prior to January 1, 2010, can make a written request to the circuit court in the county in which he or she resides to secure and disclose identifying information of his or her donor parent. Donor parents can register with the Children's Division within the Department of Social Services if they choose to allow a child to obtain his or her identifying information. Any adult child born as a result of a sperm or egg donation will be subject to the same requirements as an adopted child when seeking identifying or non-identifying information regarding his or her donor parent. Children born as a result of a sperm or egg donation made after January 1, 2010, can receive a copy of his or her original birth certificate indicating his or her donor's identifying and medical history information from the State Registrar and the donation facility.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The world of donor conception - Part I

Sorry, I've been busy and currently have a lot on my mind so I haven't been writing, but in the meantime, here are two more IDOA Reports for 2008.....UK and Canada.


IDOA Report 2008: United Kingdom

[This report was written by Tom Ellis.]

The UK Government submitted its Human Tissues and Embryos draft bill for consideration before a committe consisting of Lords and Commons members in Summer 2007. The bill contained proposals for merging the HFEA and Human Tissues Authority, amongst other amendments to the 1990 HFE Act.

The bill contained very little by way of consideration of donor-conceived people, and UK activists saw this as an opportunity to legislate for their rights. David Gollancz, Tom Ellis, and Christine Whipp submitted written evidence to the committe, and Jo Rose presented oral evidence.

The issues we initially pressed for were:

1. birth certificates: to record information of the fact of donor-conception, and the identity of the donor, on donor-conceived people's birth certificates.

2. earlier access to identifying information: to allow donor-conceived people access to information on the HFEA register from age 16 or earlier.

3. retrospective identity release: given that donors are no longer allowed to be anonymous, that the HFEA should be required to release identifying information about donors to their offspring conceived between 1991 and 2005.

As a result of our lobbying, the committee reported that "We recognise the force of the argument that the fact of donor conception should be registered on a person's birth certificate" and that "We therefore recommend that, as a matter of urgency, the Government should give this matter further consideration."


Regarding earlier access to identifying information they said "We recommend that the age of access to the Register should be reduced to 16."


I don't think the committee responded on the point of retrospective identity release.

The next stage for the bill was discussion in the House of Lords. We decided to focus on lobbying regarding the birth certificates issue. David Gollancz produced several drafts for a briefing pack detailing our argument, before printing them and sending them to many interested members of the Lords.

Notable amongst those fighting our cause were Lord Jenkin, Earl Howe and Baroness Warnock.

There was a fair amount of debate on this issue in the Lords, with notable quotes being posted at Tom's blog:

The Lords tabled a variety of amendments in our favour before the bill was passed to the Commons.

Discussion of the Bill in the Commons was very brief and the birth certificates issue was not mentioned at all, with most of the time being spent on the issues of abortion and human/animal hybrid embryos.

The bill was passed on 22nd October, without any provisions regarding the birth certificates of donor-conceived people. However, during the progression of the bill, government representatives have repeatedly stated that they will look at the issue of birth certification within four years.

##Future directions

The government have plans to make all fathers (from natural conceptions) register on the child's birth certificate. It may be possible to lobby further during consideration of this proposed legislation.

The world of donor conception - Part II

IDOA Report 2008: Canada

[This report was written by Barry Stevens with Diane Allen’s invaluable editing and corrections. ]

Perhaps the most significant event in this country in the last year was Olivia Pratten’s proposed class action lawsuit launched on Oct. 24th in the province of British Columbia (BC). (See The lawsuit seeks the immediate, and ultimately, the permanent, protection and preservation of all files related to the practice of gamete ‘donation’ in BC. On Oct. 28th, the Chief Justice of the BC Supreme Court issued an injunction ordering all ‘donor’ records not be destroyed, transferred or redacted.  The suit names the College of Physicians and Surgeons of BC (which allows 'donor' info to be destroyed after six years) as well as the attorney general of BC. Olivia argues that present law and practice are discriminatory to those born of 'donor' conception since provincial law gives adoptees the right to learn about their biological parents, and the fact that this is not true for the ‘donor’ conceived violates the equality and security of the person provisions of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. (Most provinces do not give information rights to adoptees, and we cannot say whether this suit, even if successful, will affect other provinces and territories in this country. But it would likely have a big influence.) The Adoption Council of Canada supports the suit. IDOA – Canada does as well, of course, as does the Infertility Network. The province and the college have until Dec. 28th to respond to the claim (we don’t know if they did at this writing.) The suit will continue in 2009 if the court agrees.
Other news: The Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) Act is now approaching five years of being law. When it was undergoing parliamentary committee hearings before being passed, advocates such as Pratten and her mother, as well as Barry Stevens, Irene Ryll, Diane Allen and others came close to persuading Parliament that, in future, only those willing to be identifiable to their progeny should be permitted to donate gametes. However, MPs hostile to our position (including two physicians) were parachuted onto the Commons committee and we lost.
The Act does prohibit payment to donors (beyond reimbursement for expenses directly related to the act of donation), and provides for the preservation of records and access to health information (albeit only a snapshot gathered at the time of donation, with no requirement to update it if significant health issues arise later in the family of the donor or those of offspring). We still hope to see a voluntary registry set up.
So far, however, the Assisted Human Reproduction Implementation Office of Health Canada has only developed one regulation (regarding consent). In this regulatory void, a growing black market in human eggs has developed, aided and abetted by some private, for-profit clinics which either turn a blind eye or still recruit paid ‘donors’. This has been reported in the media, and also brought to the attention of Assisted Human Reproduction Canada (AHRC) – the federal agency under Health Canada responsible for enforcing the Act. However, AHRC seems either unable or unwilling to enforce the prohibitions.
Moreover, the Act is threatened by influential organizations, which represent fertility doctors and some patients and are financed by the pharmaceutical manufacturers of fertility drugs and private, for-profit clinics which are pressing the government to retain donor anonymity as well as remove the ban on payment when the Act comes up for its mandatory five year review in 2009. The Act is also threatened by the Province of Quebec which argues that the Act is unconstitutional since in Canada, health is for the most part a matter for provincial jurisdiction. The Federal and Quebec governments will be fighting this out in the Supreme Court in 2009. IDOA – Canada is considering whether to make an ‘intervention’ in this case.
To end on a positive note: IDOA – Canada is on its way to being a registered non-profit in Ontario.