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Legal parenthood – the answer is in black and white (bold, CAPS & italics)

21 September 2015
By Andrew Berkley
Fertility Management Consultant
Appeared in BioNews 820

Working within the highly pressurised and ever-changing fertility treatment sector, with talented and competent medical and nursing practitioners, it is clear that there is no excuse or complacency for the administrative incompetence of fertility clinics that has resulted in legal parenthood uncertainty for at least 84 couples (reported in BioNews 819).

The High Court ruling by Sir James Munby, President of the Family Division, granted the declaration sought by all seven couples brought before the Court, undoubtedly resulting in great relief for the parents and bringing an end to a lengthy period of confusion, misery and uncertainty.

While the ruling has rightly laid criticism at the hands of the clinics who are responsible for compliance with the conditions of the licence granted by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), the teams of clinic staff will also breathe a sigh a relief at the ruling as, through the nature of their work, they are dedicated and committed to helping patients realise their dream of having a family.

As 40 percent of clinics it regulates revealed anomalies in the records relating to legal parenthood, the HFEA has had its regulatory framework or the extent of its regulatory powers called into question – indeed it has acknowledged its shortcomings in a press statement – 'we should have done more to make sure clinics were getting it right'.

In his afterword, Sir James observes that appropriate typography to highlight FUNDAMENTALLY IMPORTANT points might have been better used in the HFEA's communication regarding legal parenthood provision with clinics. It might be worth clinics considering that Sir James' observations suggest that a way of preventing recurrence lies within the term itself – LEGAL parenthood.

While informed consent to medical procedures is best sought by appropriately trained medical and nursing professionals who are best-placed to provide information relating to the procedure, one wonders whether highly skilled, care providers are really best-placed to provide information about, and seek consent to, legal parenthood?

Sir James makes comparison between the care, attention and rigour demanded by the checking of a legal parenthood form as is demanded in the case of a contract for the sale of land, a conveyance or a will, all of which are legal documents.

Perhaps clinics should insist that legal parenthood forms are checked for completeness and accuracy by the best-placed professionals – lawyers?

SOURCES & REFERENCES
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