Fourteen years after being told she was conceived with the help of a sperm donor, a woman recently diagnosed with advanced cancer is determined to find the man who could shed light on her genetic and medical history.
It has broken my heart many times over
Born in Australia, Narelle Grech, 29, from Melbourne, is one of hundreds of Australians searching for their biological relatives. But since she was born before 1988, she has no legal right of access to her biological father’s details.
Both her parents were born in Malta, so the clinic matched the blood group and Maltese origins when selecting the donor.
Doctors suspect the cancer is genetically linked and her mother’s family has no history of cancer. Finding her biological father earlier could have meant being screened at an earlier age.
Narelle is aware of her biological father’s details. He donated at Prince Henry’s Hospital (now closed) in Melbourne around 1981. At the time, he was a student and married, had brown hair and eyes and his blood group is O positive.
His donor code T5, given to him at the clinic, shows that his surname begins with the letter T. One of the counsellors who has access to her records told Narelle her father’s surname is recognisably of Maltese origin. But this information is the only lead in her quest to find the man who dwelled in her thoughts for the past years.
“It’s been 14 years and the curiosity has not changed. I still want to find him,” she told The Sunday Times.
Narelle was 15 when her parents told her about her donor conception status.
“As you can imagine first I was shocked, although it wasn’t until years later that I seriously considered what this news meant for me – my identity, my place in my family and in the world.
“I was upset I couldn’t know more, and have since been searching for him with the little information I was given. I still feel at a loss for not being able to know him and my paternal family.”
Initially it was all about finding him and identifying the man who helped create Narelle, but as she got older it became about learning more about herself, her identity and her paternal family. Yet, the law in the state of Victoria means the identity of her biological father is kept under lock and key.
“I am being denied access to information about myself and this is very frustrating. It has broken my heart many times over,” she added.
In May, her search took a more critical turn when doctors diagnosed her with advanced bowel cancer, classified at stage four.
“My prognosis is five years, but I’m hoping to defy the odds,” said Narelle, who is on constant medication.
Identifying her biological father earlier could have meant a chance at beating cancer and a potential lifeline to her eight half siblings, who were conceived by the same donor, and who should also be screened every five years.
“I have been denied the chance to know them and not only may they not know they are donor conceived, they may not know that they are at risk of cancer. This makes me very upset and powerless. Being donor conceived not only effects me, it impacts so many people and needs to be monitored far more rigorously than it is now.”
She said there were still many flaws in the Australian system, forcing people to live a lie and a possible direct breach of the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child, sanctioned by government and legislation.
Asked whether her biological father could still assist her, even if he wanted to remain anonymous, she said it would be useful to know if anyone had been diagnosed with cancer in his family and at what age it emerged.
“This would help me, the other people conceived by his donations and generations to follow – my children, nieces and nephews related by blood,” Narelle said.
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