The UK's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has released guidance that so long as an individual is willing to take on the legal rights and responsibilities of parenthood, they may be named on the birth certificate of a child born through fertility treatment. In addition the third party parent will, as of 6 April, be able to sign IVF clinic consent forms.
Concerns have been voiced in the press that the new arrangements will allow for a further erosion of the family form. Complaints levelled against the new arrangement include that it will 'allow single women to choose random individuals and will lead to genetically incorrect information on the birth certificate' (The Sunday Times - linked below), with Baroness Ruth Deech (former chair of the HFEA) adding: 'This sounds like social engineering on the hoof. What I object to is the falsification of the birth certificate. It is supposed to be a true record of the genetic origins of birth'.
The only formality required will be that the other adult provides their consent. This has led to critical parallels being noted, with David Jones, Professor of Bioethics at St Mary's University College, London, observing that 'these fathers or second parents sound more like godparents'. That the extent of the legal and social obligations to the child may not be immediately obvious at the outset leaves open the potential for harm to the child and little has been done to justify this substantial risk.
In attempting to account for these concerns, clinics will be obliged to provide counseling to the nominated parent. Whether this is sufficient is, of course, impossible to gauge. However, in support of the legislation, Liberal Democrat Evan Harris MP argued that this is an important step and for the nominated individual, it 'is unlikely to be taken by someone who does not take their responsibilities seriously'.
The new rules, as laid out by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 2008, are designed to clarify the legal identity of parents where there is no formal union. Where a partner (by marriage or civil partnership) has donated gametes they will automatically be included on the birth certificate unless they specifically object. However for the growing number of single women who conceive through donations from sperm banks, this new policy will provide an alternative to a blank space on the birth certificate.