Some media reports were linked in this earlier article. When I read the BBC report linked there, Churches unhappy over father figures, I was a bit surprised at the strength of reaction attributed to the Church of England on the issue of the role of fathers in connection with IVF treatment, so did some checking on this.
In fact Robert Pigott is not misrepresenting the position of the CofE’s Mission and Public Affairs Council. Here’s the full text of the response provided to the recent vote:
A Church of England spokesman said: “The Church holds that a child’s right not to be deliberately deprived of having a father is greater than any ‘right’ to a child through IVF. There is a huge difference between a child who finds themselves in a single parent family through bereavement or breakdown of parental relationship, and those who find themselves in this situation by design, for which this Bill allows. We are extremely disappointed that the important role of fathers was not recognised in the Bill, and that we now have a situation where the perceived ‘right’ to have a child trumps the right for a child to be given the best possible start in life. This vote sends a signal that fathers don’t matter.”
That response is entirely consistent with the position taken earlier, and contained in a PDF document published in June 2007, titled Response from the Church of England Mission and Public Affairs Council to the Call for Evidence from the Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill and which is available here. The section relating to this topic is reproduced in full below the fold. The press release issued by the CofE at that time was headed Church says IVF children need fathers.
And indeed, TA linked to this document in March this year, see more on the embryology bill. The focus of that TA article, and of the Church Times reports, was primarily on the apparent change of position by CofE bishops from the stance taken by the MPA Council concerning the use of embryos, see this Church Times report of June 2007, C of E: yes to hybrids.
12. What are your views on the proposal in the draft Bill to remove from the existing conditions of treatment the requirement to take account of “the need of that child for a father” before treatment services can be provided?
We believe it is wrong to remove the requirement to take account of “the need of that child for a father” from the Bill as it sends an entirely erroneous signal about the significance of fathers especially at a time when many children and families are suffering because of lack of attention and care from absent fathers.
In paras. 2.25 and 2.26 of the White Paper, the Government suggests it is removing ‘the need of a child for a father’ clause so as not to appear to discriminate against same sex couples (or single mothers) who want to have a child using IVF. The Government is bowing to the argument that as single people and gay couples can legally adopt, so the same permission must therefore be given if they wish to ‘commission’ a child using IVF. This is a non sequitur because the situations are markedly different. In adoption, the hospitality of a home is being offered to an already existing child who has had the misfortune through circumstance or necessity to lose or be removed from contact with its parents. Bringing the care of an adoptive home to a needy child is a wholly different circumstance to deciding in advance to use IVF technology to bring into the world a child who will, ‘by design’, never have a father (or mother, in the case gay men commissioning a child by IVF surrogacy). It sends the signal that everyone has a right to a child and this ‘right’ over-rules consideration of that child’s welfare.
If discrimination is the issue here, we feel the greater discrimination is in ensuring that a child will never have any chance of knowing a father, rather than in saying that gay couples have an automatic right to have a child. We consider that the child’s right not to be deliberately deprived of having a father is greater than any right of a gay couple to commission a child by IVF. The prior protection in law should be afforded to those with the greater vulnerability – the children yet to be born.
Of those without an organisational affiliation who responded to this question in the Government’s consultation, over 80% were in favour of inserting ‘the need of a child for a father and a mother’ into the Act. We agree, but want to emphasize that affirming consideration of the need of a child for a father and a mother is not equating alternative parenting or unconventional families with irresponsible or abusive parenting. Rather it is putting the welfare of the child first and looking to what are likely to be the best interests of a child who has yet to be born. The Christian response is to seek to support all families in bringing up a child in a loving and secure home life, and to acknowledge the extra help needed, for instance, when circumstances like death of a partner or desertion mean that a single parent carries the onerous burden of lone parent.
In para. 2.26 of the White Paper, the Government says that it ‘is not convinced that the retention of this provision could be justified in terms of evidence of harm, particularly when weighed against the potential harms arising from the consequences of encouraging some women who wish to conceive to make private arrangements for insemination rather than use licensed treatment services’. We wonder why the Government has changed its ethical stance to base it on ‘evidence of harm’ when it rightly rebuked the STC for taking just such an approach because such evidence is not always forthcoming in advance, saying instead that ‘the potential harms that should be taken into account may not necessarily be susceptible to demonstration and evidence in advance. For example, in our view the application of a precautionary approach requires that consideration of harms to society or to patients must include the consideration of potential harms to future offspring’.
An argument based on ‘evidence of harm’ is very weak because of the paucity of actual evidence here – as pointed out by Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali in his evidence to the STC and admitted by the Government in its consultation. Therefore, because the evidence available is equivocal and not decisive, it is far better then to take the precautionary approach of not putting a child into a situation where it may be harmed because its identity is designed from the start to be that of a person who never had a
social or biological father. This is qualitatively different from children whose fathers have died or deserted, or whose father is social rather than biological because of sperm donation. They are not children deliberately brought into the world without any chance of having a father to either be present in their lives or to refer to. This is a situation which could seriously impair a child’s ability to resolve its identity.
The STC say the need of a child for a father clause is ‘unjustifiably offensive’ to many. This is a disingenuous argument because to remove this stipulation and imply that having a father is not important to the child can be argued to be unjustifiably offensive to a hugely greater number of people.
In recent years the Government has stated that they believe that it is better for a child to have both a father and a mother, that ‘the single most important factor is the welfare of the child’ and that ‘the welfare of children cannot always be adequately protected by concern for the interests of the adults involved’. We are concerned that the Government now appears to have abandoned these views in deciding to remove the ‘need of a child for a father’ clause and in shifting the emphasis from the welfare of the child to the desires and supposed rights of adults to be able to have a child using IVF. We urge the Government to retain the need of a child for a father clause.