Australia has voted and same-sex marriage is now closer than ever before, but according to Dr Jodie Semmler, a Fertility Specialist at Fertility SA, same-sex fertility is one step ahead of the rest of Australia when it comes to equality.
“Thanks to recent changes in legislation fertility options for same-sex couples looking to start a family are now the same as those for heterosexual couples in South Australia,” Dr Semmler said.
“This is wonderful news for the LGBTQI community, and good news for us, as fertility providers in SA, as we’re now able to practice without discrimination.”
Prior to the legislation changes single women and same-sex couples were not legally able to access fertility services without a medical diagnosis in South Australia, and while a medical diagnosis is still needed for Medicare funding of fertility services, this is also the case for heterosexual couples.
“Same-sex couples now have access to the exact same fertility options as heterosexual couples,” Dr Semmler said.
So, what does this mean for same-sex couples looking to start a family?
It means same-sex couples have the option to access egg donation, sperm donation, IVF services and altruistic (unpaid) surrogacy within South Australia without needing a medical diagnosis.
“Same-sex couples and singles still need a medical diagnosis relating to fertility to access Medicare support for fertility services, however, this stipulation also applies to heterosexual couples,” Dr Semmler said.
“That may be something that has already been diagnosed, such as endometriosis, or it could be something that won’t be known until a couple seeks advice about their fertility.
“I’d encourage any same-sex couple looking to start a family to seek professional advice about their fertility first, to ensure they have all of the information they need to make an informed decision.
“We have a team of fertility nurses and counsellors who can talk over the phone about fertility options – this is a great first step for anyone looking for more information about what’s available to them.”
The options for same sex couples
1. IVF. For single women and women in same-sex relationships looking to have a baby through IVF, the fertility side of things is relatively simple, but there are legal elements, required counseling and of course the emotional investment to take into consideration. Families undergoing IVF and donors are required to undertake a series of counseling sessions in the lead up to IVF treatment, and there is a Fertility SA counselor available to work with people throughout the process.
2. Sperm donation. Women can find a sperm donor themselves or arrange a clinic recruited sperm donor. In both cases the donor needs to be added to the donor register, thoroughly screened for diseases and can be contactable once the child reaches a certain age.
3. Surrogacy. Men and women can have children through surrogacy, and while it is becoming more accessible, it is still more complex than IVF. Surrogacy in Australia is legal but must be altruistic, so surrogates cannot be paid, other than medical expenses. While fertility clinics can provide donor embryos, sperm or egg donation to same-sex couples, they are unable to arrange the altruistic surrogacy themselves as most of the arrangements involve legal contacts requiring experienced lawyers.
The future for same sex couples starting families
While same-sex marriage legislation is taking a while to catch up with fertility legislation, Dr Semmler is positive that a “yes” vote for same-sex marriage will only make it easier for LGBTQI couples looking to start a family in the future.
“It’s obviously a more complex road, and there are a number of legal hurdles to jump over, no matter your sexuality, but it is getting much easier – my hope is that we can make sperm, egg, embryo donation, and surrogacy more accessible in Australia,” Dr Semmler said.
“Whether that means changing laws to allow donors to be paid, or we start getting more altruistic donations driven by people simply looking to help other couples to have children.
“It’s certainly something that we’ve seen happening in Europe and South Africa and it would be wonderful to see it here soon too.”