At the end of 2019, The United Nations invited Flinders PhD student Damian Adams to speak at a workshop titled “Children in the age of biotechnology”. Not only was the invitation itself a rare honour for a PhD student, Damian and the team received a standing ovation. We asked Damian to share his recent experience with us.
Damian, your research focuses on the rights and welfare of children. Can you tell us a little bit more about it?
“The rights and welfare of children are enshrined in many legal documents such as various pieces of Commonwealth and State legislation as well as internationally through other documents such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). My research focuses on a specific subset of children, those who have been conceived through reproductive technologies and in particular those who have been conceived using donated gametes (sperm, eggs) or donated embryos. The conference had several concurrent workshops running through each day, however, my research and experience fitted into the workshop titled “Children in the age of biotechnology”, as it is donor conceived children, those born through surrogacy, and other techniques such as IVF that have been created with the assistance of biotechnology. While there are many components to the welfare of a child, the main focus of my research is the physical health of donor conceived people and whether or not their mode of conception has impacted their welfare and rights. A person’s long-term health is influenced by many factors that occur prior to their birth including the fetal-maternal environment through the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease phenomenon. These factors can also be ‘how a person’ was conceived. However, another component of a child’s rights and welfare was the subject of my presentation at the United Nations which was how the practices of donor conception can negatively influence a person’s sense of identity through the use of State created legal documents such as birth certificates. Birth certificates and the recording of information as a right, is covered under the UNCRC and legislation.”
How did you find out you were going to speak at the United Nations?
“The United Nations was celebrating the 30th anniversary of the UNCRC and as such was holding a special conference at the United Nations, Palais de Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. The UNCRC is the most ratified United Nations treaty and aims to protect the rights and welfare of those who are most vulnerable in our society, the children. It was therefore a very special event for children’s rights around the world. I was an invited speaker who was asked to present alongside other donor and surrogacy conceived people to members of the UN, members of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, as well as other conference participants from the around the world.”
What was the most inspiring thing about the Convention?
“That there were children, some of whom are now adults, whom had travelled from across the globe, quite often at their own expense, to share their lived experiences of how their rights had been impacted by various situations and practices. Of relevance to my research and the workshop I was involved in, it was the first time that such a large group of donor and surrogacy conceived people had been able to present to the UN and the international community on issues that had affected them. At the conclusion of the presentations, all presenters were met with a standing ovation with many a tear in the eye of numerous audience members. The workshop then also produced recommendations that were presented to the UN under the catchcry of ‘not about us, without us’. No longer should policy be made about donor and surrogacy conceived people without input from those very people. The recommendations presented to the UN will hopefully then be used to influence policy and legislation around the world. These recommendations are that States should create international and national frameworks and laws that:
- Ensure the right of donor-conceived and surrogacy-born children to access information about their identity and origins regardless of when these children were conceived and born and to preserve relations with their biological, social and gestational families.
- Ensure that comprehensive and complete records of all parties involved in the conception of the child be held by the State in perpetuity for future generations.
- Respect and promote the full and effective enjoyment of all the rights of donor-conceived and surrogacy-born children in both the immediate and longer terms.
- Ensure that the best interests of the child be the paramount consideration in all relevant laws, policies and practices and in any judicial and administrative decisions. This should include, but is not limited to, pre-conception assessments/screening of donors, intended parents, and surrogates and post-birth follow up/review that upholds the best interests of the child as paramount.
- Prohibit all forms of commercialisation of gametes, children, and surrogates including, but not limited to, the sale and trafficking in persons and gametes.
It is not everyday that what you present at a conference is able to have some form of impact on international policy regardless of whether they get accepted by all nations or not.”
It must be incredibly rewarding to know that your research is having an immediate impact. Did you have the opportunity to make new connections in your field during the Convention?
“I had several members of the audience come up and speak to me after the workshop. These came from various places around the world such as Europe, South America and Great Britain. While none of these people had prior interest in the Developmental Origins of Health and Disease phenomenon, they do have a deep and passionate interest in the rights and welfare of children in general which is the ethical framework of my research.”
Has anyone approached you about your research as a result of presenting at the workshop?
“I have had one of my new connections contact me about writing an article on children born from surrogacy for their Argentinian organisation’s publication which gets translated into Spanish and French and sent around the world to their members. They have also stated that they will attempt to invite me to Argentina to speak at some stage this year.”
Damian, thanks so much for sharing your experience with us and for giving us an insight into your amazing research.
Check out some Damian’s publications stemming from his PhD research at Flinders University:
Adams DH, Clark RA, Davies MJ, de Lacey S. Update on: a meta-analysis of sperm donation offspring health outcomes – 2018 update. J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2018 Oct;9(5):561-562.
Adams D, Fernandez R, Moore V, Willson K, Rumbold A, de Lacey S, Scheil W, Davies M. Sperm donation perinatal outcomes in an Australian population cohort. J Obstet Gynaecol Res. 2017 Dec;43(12):1830-1839.
Adams DH, Clark RA, Davies MJ, de Lacey S. A meta-analysis of sperm donation offspring health outcomes. J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2017;8(1):44-55.
Adams DH, Ullah S, de Lacey S. Does the Removal of Anonymity Reduce Sperm Donors in Australia? J Law Med. 2016;23(3):628-636.
Adams DH, Clark RA, Davies MJ, de Lacey S. A meta-analysis of neonatal health outcomes from oocyte donation. J Dev Orig Health Dis. 2016 7(03):257-272.
Adams DH (2013). Conceptualising a Child-Centric Paradigm: Do We Have Freedom of Choice in Donor Conception Reproduction? J Bioeth Inq. 10(3):369-81.
Adams D (2012). Gamete donor medical records: whose information is it? MJA 197(10): 543.