The UK tabloid press pounced upon the story. The Sun newspaper, which had the exclusive interview with the boy and his mother, ran the headline 'I always knew he wasn't my dad', adding commentary pieces titled 'IVF nightmare' and asking 'Just one of many errors?'. The majority of other newspaper and TV reports appeared to be in agreement that the boy had the 'wrong father' after an IVF mix up. But what makes this man the 'wrong' father?
This man went to a clinic with his former wife for IVF treatment, paying £5000 for it, resulting in the birth of a baby boy. The Sun reports that the IVF treatment was part of an attempt to save a rocky marriage - it failed to do so and the couple split up soon afterwards. The mother has since married again. The fatherhood issue in this case, then, appears not to be based on an IVF mistake, but on the fact that a marriage failed, and a child grew up with another man performing the role of social father - his step-dad. Had the marriage been happy, this boy would have grown up with the man who intended to be his father, providing sperm for IVF, and there would perhaps have been few doubts - from him, his mother, or anyone else - about his 'true' parentage.
Inevitably, this case has sparked comparisons with the one which came to light last year in which a white woman gave birth to mixed race twins after her eggs were fertilised with the sperm of the wrong man. After that case, IVF checking procedures were tightened with the aim of preventing mistakes such as these in the future. Errors should now be far less likely, but that's not to say human error cannot occur, and it is possible that mistakes other than the ones that have recently been made public have occurred in the past. What these cases show, however, is that we need to rethink what being a father, mother or parent means. Does it mean genetic input or, in today's technologically advanced society, should we be considering a redefinition along the lines of social or intentional parenthood?
The boy in this week's story did not have the 'wrong' father at all. He had, like many children following divorce, a man who he did not live with who he called his father, and a step-father. In no way, in his case, was a genetic relationship important: he says he is not interested (even if it were possible) in tracing his genetic father and nor is his mum. The basis of this case is a failed relationship, not an IVF mistake. Just because a mistake has been proved, this is not - or should not be - as The Sun would have it, 'a scandal which will shock the world'.