Fertility laws in UK drop “need for a father” in infertility treatment

Single women and lesbian couples will be able to seek fertility treatment without having to consider a father for their children. In May this year, the House of Commons in UK has rejected a proposed amendment to the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Bill, requiring fertility clinics to consider the ‘need for a father’ prior to IVF treatment. Under the new Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, women seeking fertility treatment will no longer have to take into account the role of a father figure. Instead, the rules will be replaced with references to “supportive parenting”.

Section 13 of the 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act required IVF clinics to consider the ‘welfare’ of any child that may be created, including the ‘need for a father’, prior to IVF treatment. This requirement was debated in the House of Commons and reviewed by the parliamentary Science and Technology Committee in 2006. It was suggested that the requirement discriminates against lesbian couples and single women seeking IVF treatment, but noted that clinicians and fertility counsellors recommended retaining a reference to the parenting needs of the child.

The new Bill will reflect the HFEA guidelines and will be brought into line with the Human Rights Act. Health minister Dawn Primarolo said, ‘this is about ensuring that this law reflects current practices and family setups and current legislation referring to human rights’. Emily Thornberry, the Labour MP for Islington, reiterated, ‘the important point is to give legal rights to lesbian couples and single women.’

The amendment to retain the ‘need for a father’ in the new HFE bill was proposed by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, who argued that removing the ‘need for a father’ would send a message that ‘fathers are less important than mothers’ in parenting. Labour MP Geraldine Smith appealed to ‘common sense’ in the need for a father figure. Mr Duncan Smith and his supporters said that fathers play an important role in parenting, and pointed to evidence that children from single parent families were less likely to do well at school and more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol. In practice, they said, there was little evidence that lesbian couples and single mothers were being denied fertility treatment..

The latest psychological research, discussed at a public debate hosted by the Progress Educational Trust at the House of Commons in January 2008, suggests that children benefit when a father is active in parenting, and are adversely affected when a father leaves the family. There is also much evidence that ‘solo’ single mothers by choice and lesbian couples are highly committed to parenthood and able to provide supportive parenting.

The Bill will also allow both partners in a lesbian couple to be designated parents when they conceive with donated sperm. This reflects the situation of a heterosexual couple seeking fertility treatment with donor sperm, where the man is deemed the legal father despite having no biological relation to the child. The legislation represents the greatest extension to the family rights of homosexual couples since gay adoption.

Posted by : Goral Gandhi, MSc,

                   Laboratory Director,

                   Rotunda – Center for Human Reproduction (Pvt) Ltd




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