Wednesday, 12 December 2007

HTE Bill Discussed by Lords Committee

The discussion of the HTE Bill in the House of Lords has reached the committee stage:

The discussion has been worrying and encouraging in equal measure. I have selected a few quotes to discuss.

Baroness Deech:
We must look at things through a child's eyes. Do we not call it a tragedy for a child if his or her father is killed, especially during pregnancy? Does the baby appreciate that his fatherlessness is planned rather than accidental?
The Baroness is correct that any form of fatherlessness is a tragedy, and the intentionality of fatherlessness that donor-conception implies only makes the situation worse.

Lord Winston:
When doctors forget that the most important person is the person in front of them whom they are treating, they forget their responsibility to that person.
The noble Lord is confused. In the case of "fertility" "treatment" the most important person is not the "patient". It is the new, independent, autonomous human being who will be created as a result.
We are faced here with a woman who has gone through in vitro fertilisation, who has given up her eggs - possibly under some kind of duress because it was the only way in which she could pay for the treatment - who ends up feeling that at least she has tried but is infertile, but who then finds, potentially to her horror, that she had a child all along who she did not know existed and whom, in different circumstances, she would have liked to have nurtured herself.
How can Winston acknowledge this and continue to support donor-conception?
Practical experience at Hammersmith, which is a very large infertility clinic, shows that people undergoing donor arrangements tend to keep the matter secret from the children.
Tell that to the Donor-Conception Network!

Baroness Barker:

Although Baroness Barker has tabled an amendment suggesting that a "symbol" be added to the birth certificates of donor-conceived people it is clear that she does not understand the issue from the donor-conceived viewpoint, as these quotes illustrate.
If any Member of the Committee could find a way in which this intensely personal and private information could be communicated directly, and only, to the person to whom it had most meaning, I would be delighted to consider it.
The point of putting the truth on birth certificates is, tautologously, that birth certificates should record the truth! The fact that this will help donor-conceived people to find out about their status is simply a happy side effect. Lying on the birth certificate, but having some other means to inform donor-conceived people of their status is still discriminatory and singles us out as being different even more so than a symbol on the birth certificate would!
I was very heartened when the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said that those children are special - that they are extremely wanted. They are.
The noble Baroness is misleading herself and others by perpetuating the myth that donor-conceived people are "special" and "wanted". We are not "special", we are abnormal, different from everyone else and in a very negative way. We are not "wanted". When someone has a baby by sperm donation they do
not want that baby. They want any baby. They don't even care who the father is! They don't care who half the child is. They do not want that baby, as a person, as an individual human being. They simply want the idea of a baby.
We have never said to people who are adopted that on their 18th birthday a letter would come through the post to advise them of that fact. Why? Because in all the time that our predecessors in this Chamber - we go back hundreds of years - were making laws on adoption, we recognised that what was happening was the creation of new families.
False. You cannot "create" a family. A group of people either is or is not a family based on objective factors: essentially because of genetics. Certain factors such as the existence of step-parents, half-siblings act to make this concept a blurry one, but not a subjective one! It may be difficult to define what a family is but that does not detract from the truth: that a family is or is not based on facts and not on actions. Adoption does not create new families. It simply "transplants" children into a family that is not their own.

Baroness Warnock:
Times will change and it will become recognised that being a child by donation is an honourable thing to be.
Hopefully being any sort of human will be recognised as an honourable thing to be. However, it ought to be recognised as thoroughly shameful that one's raising parents, the government and the medical profession acted to create a human being who would never have a meaningful relationship with one or both parents.

Lord Mackay:
The licensed clinic, or centre, or the HFEA could have an obligation to send a confidential communication to the child at a given age and, before it did so, it should warn the parents that that was going to happen.
Lord Mackay speaks with the best of intentions, but seems to fail to realise that this would perpetuate discrimination against donor-conceived people: they still would not have the truth on their birth certificate!

Baroness Royall:
As drafted, it would include the annotation on a birth certificate of any birth that was the result of IVF or other licensed infertility treatment. Infertility can be a difficult issue for people to come to terms with and I believe that they would not like it to be made public in this way.
Perhaps not, but remember this is an issue of Human Rights for the donor-conceived, not an issue of privacy for the infertile! Certainly these two issues are at conflict, but one is more important than the other.
If it were noted on a birth certificate that a child was the result of IVF treatment, or yet still that their father or mother was not actually their biological parent, would that not set them apart from other children as different? Is that something that children and parents would want to have openly displayed, even if they were aware of it themselves?
If there's nothing wrong with donor-conception, why be afraid of the information being on the birth certificate? [Hint: this is a rhetorical question]
The noble Baroness is right. These children are special and desperately wanted. That is at the nub of everything that we have been talking about today.
Baroness O'Cathain:
Given that the child's welfare is at the heart of the Bill, is not the issue here that the children born from this egg donor business are more desperately wanted than probably any other children? That should turn the matter on its head, as it is done in such a way as to make the child special. That is the way I feel about it.
Unfortunately the noble Baronesses have fallen into the trap of the "desperately wanted" fallacy.

Lord Howe:

I am just sorry that the noble Baroness did not warm to the amendments alittle bit more than she appeared to do. I simply invite her to read the evidence put before the Joint Committee, which convinced me, at any rate, that the rights of parents to privacy - rights that should certainly not be overlooked in this equation - are trumped by the right of the child to expect
truth from the state.
I add that encouraging parents to be open with their children really does not address the issue of human rights about which so many Lords spoke.

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