Thursday, 5 June 2008

Human Fertilisation & Embryology: IVF - rights and responsibilities.

The Government has just published a White Paper 'Recording Responsibility'. It can be downloaded here. As part of an upcoming Welfare Reform Bill, it is intended to impose a requirement on a mother when registering the birth of a child to name the father, unless it is 'impossible, impractical or unreasonable' for her to do so; should the mother consider her circumstances falls into one of those categories, she will have to persuade the Registrar that they do. The new arrangement is called 'joint registration' and is intended

to promote child welfare and parental responsibility.

It has a lot to say about fatherhood. Before one even gets into the paper itself, the Ministerial foreword tells us that

The role of both father and mother is important to a child’s development.

and goes on to say that

Fathers’ involvement in their child’s life can lead to positive educational achievement, a good, open and trusting parent-child relationship during the teenage years and reduce the risk of mental health issues for children in separated families. Engaging fathers around the time of their child's birth, including through being registered as father, is important in establishing that close involvement.

These fine words, with which I entirely agree, are purportedly written by the Rt Hon James Purnell (Secretary of State for Work and Pensions) and the Rt Hon Ed Balls (Secretary of State for Children, Schools and Families).

The paper itself says

At the heart of our reforms is a desire to promote child welfare and the right of every child to know who his or her parents are. In most cases, a child's right to be acknowledged and cared for by his or her father should not be dependent on the relationship between the parents.

At this point I suspect that I'm not alone in wondering whether the Rt Hons Purnell and Balls voted against the proposals related to the registration of children to same-sex 'parents'. But of course they didn't, and the paper itself has a sting in its tale. It doesn't

cover... the changes proposed in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill to allow a same-sex couple to be recorded as parents at birth.

Let's forget fathers for a moment, and suggest that the Government should consider 'recording' its own 'responsibility'. Our Government is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that

children, whenever possible, have the right to know their parentage.

Now I don't think that when this convention was drawn up, what was meant by 'parentage' was the names and addresses of the people who were bringing a child up. What it meant was the two people who had each contributed half of a child's genes, the child's mother and father. Nature's inconvenient like that, continuing to insist that children get one of each, despite the best efforts of our scientists and politicians. And it has been very well established through the latter half of the twentieth century that children have a very strong need to find out about, and more often than not to find, their biological parents. Despite all that, the Government has now done something that it never countenanced with adoption; allowing the birth certificate to be no more than a lie, that records either, or maybe neither, of a child's parents without regard to nature or fact. Adoption has taught us more than that children need to know the facts of their biological parentage; Dr Barnardo's would not be alone in recognising the long term grief and anger that results from the telling of lies, and particularly those that have legal sanction.

I wouldn't dispute that same-sex couples are entirely capable of providing 'supportive parenting', and many already do, but that doesn't alter the unavoidable fact that at least one of them won't be the parent of the child. In that context, I find it impossible to consider IVF morally acceptable unless the couple concerned are the biological as well as the supportive parents; beyond that denies a child its most basic rights.

In the end, it's the same as the abortion debate. There's far too much talk of rights, far too little about responsibilities. The rights being talked up here are once again those of selfish uncaring adults (and are not really 'rights' at all); never are they those of the rights of the child. As for responsibilities, none of the supporters of the recent changes in the law seem to have regard for those whatever.

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