April 13, 2024

Sperm donors can be parents, says Australia’s High Court

Some men will be shocked by decision

Australian sperm donors are slightly more hopeful or slightly more wary or slightly more perplexed after a landmark case was settled in the High Court this week. In Masson v Parsons & Ors, the court ruled that “Robert Masson”, a sperm donor, is the legal father of the daughter of “Susan Parsons” and her wife, a lesbian couple.

The story begins in 2006 when Masson, a long-time friend of Parsons, agreed to provide semen for artificial insemination so that she could have a child. Masson was listed as the father on the girl’s birth certificate and played an important role in her life. She and her sister, conceived independently, even called him “daddy”.

In 2015, things took a different turn. Parsons married her girlfriend in New Zealand and decided to relocate there. Masson resorted to legal action to keep his daughter in Australia so that he could be close to her. Justice Margaret Cleary of the Family Law Court held that Masson was a parent and shared responsibility for the girl’s upbringing.

On appeal to the Full Bench, this was overturned. It held that under New South Wales law, there was an “irrebuttable presumption” that a sperm donor was not a parent.

However, the High Court held – after settling jurisdictional issues – that a sperm donor may be a parent, the NSW law notwithstanding. It said that:

the question of whether a person is a parent of a child born of an artificial conception procedure depends on whether the person is a parent of the child according to the ordinary, accepted English meaning of ‘parent’.

The Court left as an open question whether a child could have three parents.

The decision will not open the floodgates for women to claim child support from their child’s long-forgotten sperm donor, or for men to claim parenting rights over a child they have never seen. “The ordinary, accepted English meaning of ‘parent’” is a man who has played some sort of role in raising a child.

However, Stephen Page, an expert in fertility law, said that men who had something to do with a sperm donor child could be in trouble. “I can assure you that there are men who thought they were sperm donors and had no obligation to the child … and have now discovered that potentially they have the full gamut of responsibility, including potentially child support and inheritance,” he told the ABC.

Michael Cook is editor of BioEdge     

Creative commons
sperm donors