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Monday, 11 November 2002
Page: 5990


Senator MURRAY (10:07 PM) —I rise to join the numerous speakers on the Research Involving Embryos Bill 2002. Like nearly every other speaker I have heard, this has been an issue that has pushed me backwards and forwards, because it involves human embryos. Having regard to the information I have been provided in my party room and outside, my end conclusion has been that the government's bill has been constructed in such a way that it provides both the intention for sufficient protection and the intention for positive outcomes— which would mean that I should support it.

This bill concerns embryos in IVF facilities. Embryos of themselves raise issues of our humanity, our morality and our future. It is most often their place in our future which is the focus, but the essence of our genes is in our past. The Senate Community Affairs References Committee report on child migration in August 2001, titled Lost innocents: righting the record, followed on from the stolen generations report. At the heart of both those reports was the need for identity, for belonging, for country, for connection. If there is anything that characterises the 250,000 Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australian children and the foreign children in Australian institutions last century it is this absolute need for the restoration of identity and family.

The importance of connection to your past can never be overstated as an essential force making people whole. Chapter 6 of the child migrants report is entitled `The search for identity'. At the beginning of chapter 6 there is the following quote from Hansard:

After 53 years of loneliness, these people, like a lighthouse in the desert, shone that light through my heart and said `You have an identity.' My heart was filled with happiness for the first time in my life.

The only gripe I really have is `why didn't they tell me I wasn't an orphan and that I had a family all along?'

The greatest hardship can be not knowing who you are, where you come from, whom you belong to. It produces a sense of dislocation and of emptiness. It is odd that something so fundamental and important should have been the subject of such insensitivity and wrong-headedness. Records connecting children to their past have been consistently denied to them by governments and by charities. Records have been deliberately destroyed, falsified or withheld. Again from the child migrants report is this quote:

All my life I wanted a mother and a father and a family and never stopped looking.

The child migrants report summarised the manner and the motives for withholding information. At page 169 it stated:

There was also a generally held view that it was `better' if child migrants had a new start and didn't find out about their backgrounds, particularly in the case of illegitimacy ... Appalling inaccuracies and discrepancies in record keeping are much evident: names were changed and birth dates were changed ... The Committee considers that these practices amount to gross incompetence and lack of duty of care ...

We cannot overstate the importance of satisfying this human need.

This was not just an Australian problem but also an international problem. Eventually, in 1989, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child said the following:

Article 7.1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.

Article 7.2. States Parties shall ensure the implementation of these rights in accordance with their obligations under the relevant international instruments in this field, in particular where the child would otherwise be stateless.

Article 8.1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.

Article 8.2. Where a child is illegally deprived of some or all of the elements of his or her identity, States Parties shall provide appropriate assistance and protection, with a view to speedily re-establishing his or her identity.

Among the strongest supporters of the identity provision were the Argentinians, whose `dirty war' had resulted in so many children lost to their past.

This bill attends to the fate of embryos. Whilst we have to attend in this legislation to the use of embryos for stem cell research, we must recognise that the IVF facilities in which these embryos are produced are also the IVF facilities where grown children later may vainly seek their origin.

In 1996 the Australian Health Ethics Committee, in its Ethical Guidelines on Assisted Reproductive Technology, strongly recommended the enactment of legislation in all states and territories dealing with assisted reproductive services. It recommended that children born from using assisted reproductive services should have access to information, including identifying information, about their biological parents. On 9 May 2002, the West Australian in my home state reported that the Labor state cabinet had:

... agreed to a bold move allowing anyone ever adopted in WA to know the identity of their relinquishing parent.

Professor Geraldine van Beuren, Professor of International Human Rights Law at the University of London, in a speech in October this year in New Orleans to the First International Congress on Child Migration—which covered child trafficking and refugee children—said:

In many countries there are only two groups of children who are denied, by law, access to their biological and genetic history—adopted children and children born by artificial insemination by donor.

The Western Australian government is moving to address the plight of adopted children who lose contact with their essential biological and genetic past. The Age, on 12 June 2002, had a story about Geraldine Hewitt's hunt for her biological father. The Age stated:

... Ms Hewitt said children born of donor sperm “overwhelmingly have identity issues. They wonder who their biological father is. A lot said, `I look in the mirror and I don't know who I am'. And every single person said, `yes, I want medical information'.”

In most states children are not permitted access to information until they are 18. Even then, it may of the bland, non-identifying type ...

“People are frightened that the kid is going to knock on the door and try and muscle in on the inheritance ... It's not like that. I want to meet my donor, but not because I want another dad. I have a dad. He's one of my best friends. But it's like not having a proper history.”

Professor van Beuren said:

The essence of the Convention on the Rights of the Child can be reduced to one sentence—children have the right to know their past identities and the right to participate in shaping their future identities.

She said:

The fundamental issue is the right of all children to preserve their biological family as well as their social family relationships.

She also said that children are entitled to a concept of biological and social childhood which does not deny them their full genealogical heritage. I welcome the fact that this bill has generated an opportunity for senators and members to speak from the heart, free from their party whip. I think that the cause is a good one in the sense that these are issues that needed to be addressed seriously and in depth by the parliament of Australia. I wish that the parliament of Australia would spend as much effort, as much attention and as much time on those matters concerning living children—and they do not and have not.

Because this bill is one of those rare occasions when senators are freed from the binding ideology of their parties, the second reading amendment that I, and on behalf of Senator Ridgeway, will be moving provides a unique opportunity for senators to determine whether they should support this essential ethical position. Senator Ridgeway supports the amendment as a representative of his people, including the stolen generation. I will be moving it as a representative of the many institutionalised children who have struggled to connect with their past. It is very important that, when we think about those 250,000 institutionalised children last century, we recognise that their lives have probably touched the lives of a couple of million Australians and that these matters are worthy of being addressed by the Senate, by this government and by this parliament. I, and also on behalf of Senator Ridgeway, move revised amendment 2685:

At the end of the motion, add:

“but the Senate supports:

(a) Article 8 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that states “States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognised by law without unlawful interference”;

(b) the Australian Health Ethics Committee 1996 Guideline 3.1.5 that recommends that children born from using assisted reproductive services should have access to information, including identifying information, about their biological parents;

and the Senate further urges the Government:

(c) to do all in its power by legislation or other means to try to ensure that every child, whether adopted or conceived via IVF (unless a foundling), can no later than on achieving adulthood access information about his or her biological parents”.