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Lords criticise proposals to remove the 'need for a father'

26 November 2007
Appeared in BioNews 435

Plans to remove the requirement that IVF clinics in the UK consider the 'the need of that child for a father' under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill have been heavily criticised in the House of Lords. The requirement is currently contained in section 13(5) of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 and it is believed to deny IVF treatment to lesbian couples and single parents.

The new proposals would give both female individuals in a same-sex relationship legal status as the parents of a child born using donated sperm. Speaking in support for the reform, Lord Darzi, health minister and a consultant surgeon, told the House of Lords that the Government was seeking to update the law to be 'both effective and also reflective of modern society', adding that, 'technology has moved on and so have attitudes'.

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, did not agree saying that the Government was seeking to put the 'right to be a parent over the welfare of a child'. He said the proposals would mean the 'removal by design of the father of the child'. Opponents of the proposal included Lord Mackay, who steered the 1990 Act though the House of Lords, and former Chairwoman of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, Baroness Deech, who said removing the clause would 'ignore the contribution made by half of the human race towards the upbringing of the next generation'. 'I know that plenty of children are brought up well without two parents but in an ideal world you need a mother, which is implicit in the law, and a father,' she said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today programme, Baroness Deech explained her opposition upon the principle that 'both sexes have a part to play in the upbringing of children'. In response, Natalie Gamble, a lawyer and lesbian IVF patient herself, spoke of the role of modern families needing to be recognised by the law. 'What [the proposals are] talking about is giving equal treatment to a small minority of same sex couples who are already conceiving using sperm donors. This debate about the change in the law that the government is proposing is being dragged into the wider debate about social breakdown and absent fathers'.

The Catholic Church has expressed its staunch opposition to removing the 'need for a father'. Writing to The Times, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor said that the bill 'radically undermines the place of the father in a child's life, and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple', adding 'it is profoundly wrong'. The Lawyer's Christian Fellowship also wrote to The Times, arguing that the Bill seeks the 'deconstruction of the traditional family and a radical change in what it means to be human'. The letter stated: 'We believe the Bill to be a dangerous experiment which puts the interests of the children affected at risk and has unknown consequences for the human race'.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown has also been criticised for refusing to allow Labour MPs to vote according to their conscience on the issue when the Bill arrives for debate in the Commons, something that the Conservative leader David Cameron has permitted MPs to do. Former Conservative leader, Iain Duncan Smith has already voiced his opposition saying the legislation would drive a 'nail in the coffin' of the traditional family. Dr Evan Harris MP, the Liberal Democrat science spokesman, hit back saying, 'The research evidence is clear that children do well in lesbian households and when brought up by mature solo women who plan their motherhood, so imposing a requirement on clinics to consider the need for a father in such cases is both unjustified and unlawful discrimination'.

Church condemns lesbian IVF use
BBC News Online |  19 November 2007
Embryo law causes concern for 'child's rights'
The Daily Telegraph |  21 November 2007
Fertility debate suspended after Labour peer collapses
The Guardian |  20 November 2007
Lesbian parents are 'last nail in coffin' of traditional family
The Times |  18 November 2007
Peers attack 'fatherless' IVF bid
BBC News Online |  19 November 2007
29 January 2008 - by Dr Jess Buxton 
Those offering IVF and associated techniques in the UK are currently required, by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, to consider the welfare of the child who might be born as a result - including the child's 'need for a father'. However, the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill currently...
20 January 2008 - by Antony Starza-Allen 
The widely reported story of the twins separated at birth who, with their true biological origins unknown to them, later married, has led to a timely rekindling of the 'need for a father' debate in the UK. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill 2007 is currently...
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