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On the first, I sympathise with the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Barker. My difficulty is that a coded symbol on the birth certificate will be read as donor conceived very quickly indeed, and it might just as well say the words. Equally, on the amendment of the noble Earl, Lord Howe, about abbreviated and long birth certificates, my understandingbut I could
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Secondly, on the genetic inheritanceand perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, will support me on thiswe heard at the scrutiny committee of the increasing worry that sperm donors were now limiting themselves in number and not coming forward precisely because of the tracking problem. Without going so far as to be worried about potentially incestuous relationships, this none the less did not seem a wise or prudent path to follow.
Equally, people need to know their medical history. Some of the evidence we got was very emotional and passionate. People wanted a slim hope of tracking back an individual parent in time to come. For the most part, however, the sense from the evidence was that people needed to know the genetic inheritance rather than the named individual so that they would be aware of future medical possibilities, problems and so on, and have that evidence. Surely we could also make that distinction. I hope that the Minister can help us on both these issues.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff: Briefly, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for having made such a fantastically good attempt at coming up with a solution. I doubt whether there is any way that we can get the wording right tonight. The noble Earl, Lord Howe, has also attempted a solution. However, listening to the debate, it strikes me that we have two separate things going on. One is about deceiving the infant, child or adolescentat whatever stage they arebecause they are carrying a piece of paper which is not reasonably truthful. I say reasonably truthful because we know that between 10 and 40 per centI have heard 25 per centof children believe that somebody is their dad, and genetically he is not.
There is a difference between the state colluding in a deception and a deception which has arisen either because the woman was unaware of it or because she did not want to face the consequences of having been off with someone else, or whatever. The problems relate to a child who has been lied to. I completely concur with my noble friend Lady Warnock on the problems for children who are deliberately lied to, not only about parentage but about all kinds of aspects. When divorce was stigmatised, parents sometimes tried to protect their children from the knowledge that they had been divorced prior to the child coming along. It was devastating for the children to discover that there was a secret to which they had not been party. We see it with the diagnosis of parents with life-threatening
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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: The Government fully recognise the importance of donor-conceived children being told about their origins and our policy is one of openness in this area. Whether birth certificates should be annotated in some way to indicate donor conception is not a new issue; indeed the Warnock committee concluded in 1984 that,
The Government have long believed that it is of prime importance that donor-conceived children are made aware, from a young age, of their background and are committed to encouraging that. As I briefly mentioned earlier, we are currently having discussions with the Donor Conception Networkan organisation of families of donor-conceived children and donor-conceived adultsabout ways in which current and potential parents of donor-conceived children can be encouraged to tell the children about their origins. Workshops and materials are being planned. The aim is to encourage openness, and the Donor Conception Network provides information on telling and talking. It also provides helpful advice on how to tell older children, precisely to ensure that the cases of anger described by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, and the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, do not arise.
Turning to Amendment No. 63 tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Howe, I feel that there are drawbacks to the proposed approach. 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. Birth certificates are public documents. I believe, however, that the noble Earls intention was to make a reference to a donation by sperm, eggs, or an embryo, on birth certificates.
Amendment No. 68B, tabled by the noble Baronesses, Lady Barker and Lady Warnock, and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, would bring a provision into the Bill that would mean a symbol would be used to annotate a birth certificate of a child who had been born through donor conception. I understand that a symbol would be a more subtle way of displaying the information and it is a very interesting proposal. However, I have heard the views expressed this evening and the symbol could soon become recognised. It may set apart such children as different and the information would be openly displayed on a public document, available for all to see.
One further issue on both amendments that would need to be considered in detail is how, and if, that would work in practice. For example, when a woman gives birth in hospital, no one there will be aware that she conceived via either IVF or with donor sperm or eggs. Therefore, there would have to be a reliance on the parents to tell the registrar when registering the birth that they underwent certain treatment. Some parents might not be open with the registrar and, if so, the difficulty in telling the child later would be compounded. Indeed, it might make it even more difficult for parents to be honest with their children later on.
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? I well understand that the situation is changing, as the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, said.
Currently, donor-conceived children can, on reaching 18, get in touch with the HFEA to find out certain non-identifying information about their donor. As the noble Earl, Lord Howe, informed us, since the removal of donor anonymity in 2005, donor-conceived people will also be able to obtain identifying information about their donor on reaching 18.
The Bill also brings in new provisions that enable donor-conceived children to contact the HFEA to find out non-identifying information at the lower age of 16, followed by identifying information on reaching 18. The non-identifying information includes information about a range of personal characteristics of the donor, the screening tests carried out on the donor and information on their personal and family medical history. The HFEA issues directions to clinics, which means that this information has to be collected by them at the time of donation and provided to the HFEA.
I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Winston for drawing attention to the painful situation of the woman who unknowingly donated eggs that gave rise to a child, while she remained infertile. However, the Bill
Lord Harries of Pentregarth: I am sorry to interrupt, but the Minister said unknowingly. However, the HFEA and all the best clinics emphasise the importance of good counselling, and it is government policy. Before a woman enters an egg-sharing arrangement, she has to be made fully aware that she might not conceive and that someone to whom she donated an egg might. She is urged not to enter into the arrangement unless she is prepared to accept the consequences.
Lord Winston: Forgive the intervention, but women often go into such arrangements through desperation. Although they will be counselledthe wise course advised by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harriesthe problem is that they may well fantasise that they will end up not with a pregnancy for the other woman but with one of their own. That is the problem in practice. This is a real issue for such
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Baroness O'Cathain: Given that the childs 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.
I am grateful for the clarification given by noble Lords. The Bill provides for sperm and egg donors to ask centres whether a child has been born from their donation. People can find out the number, the year of birth and the sex of the children born. That may help to ameliorate things somewhat. I note the guidance and counselling given by the HFEAI am grateful for both the counselling and the information.
Some are of the view that annotating donor-conceived childrens birth certificates, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, will mean that those children are better placed to find out about their genetic background. However, the Government believe that encouraging openness by the parents of donor-conceived children is currently the best way forward. Arrangements are in place for donor-conceived people to find out about their genetic background from the HFEA register, if they would like to. However, in response to the Joint Committee, the Government will keep the position on birth registration and donor conception under review. Tonights debate is an important contribution to that review.
I note that, in Amendment No. 63, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, proposes regulations. The Government would not want to include in the Bill a provision as proposed in the amendment, because a lot more discussion needs to go on with stakeholders. I know that it is thought that discussions can take place rapidly, but, to put something in the Bill, we have to be sure that it is absolutely right, and absolutely right for the families, the children and everyone concerned for an awful long time.
Therefore, as we go into further discussion before Report, maybe we should consider regulation-making procedures with a view to clarifying the situation later, after all those discussions. I do not know. Those are things to be discussed and I look forward to that. In the mean time, I trust that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
I simply want to make a couple of observations. I tabled my amendment, to which I am not especially wedded, because I had talked to different people and tried to put myself in the different shoes of all those who would be affected by the provision. I was very heartened when the noble Baroness, Lady O'Cathain, said that those children are specialthat they are extremely wanted. They are. I have a reservation about marking out anyone as being somehow different on their birth certificate. I am profoundly uncomfortable with that on principle.
To the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, I say that I read the evidence and the report of the Joint Committee. I know that the Joint Committee had before it some powerful and persuasive young people who were making some extremely compelling arguments, but they represent only one strand of opinion among people who have been donor conceived. Other people who have been donor conceived take an entirely different view. That is a point that has not been made throughout our discussion today.
None of us wants in any way to promote or assist collusion in an untruth, but I was similarly uncomfortable with the proposal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Mackay of Clashfern. 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 Chamberwe go back hundreds of yearswere making laws on adoption, we recognised that what was happening was the creation of new families. It was in part the job of legislators to ensure that the legislation surrounding the creation of that family did not make family life impossible.
We run the risk of doing that. We do it for a very understandable reason. In some ways, we are trying to replicate two systems, neither of which is perfect. One is the law on adoption and the other, as the noble Viscount, Lord Craigavon, so strongly argued, is real life as it has happened since time began and before people with the genius of the noble Lord, Lord Winston, were there to facilitate its creation.
I realise that we have not concluded this discussion in any way, but I think that it has been helpful to air the arguments. I would very much welcome the opportunity to consider any or all of the issues with any Members of your Lordships' House. In the mean time, I shall not press my amendment.
Earl Howe: I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken in support of my amendment and that tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, with my name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, attached to it.
As the noble Baroness said, this is an extremely difficult issue. There are no easy ways through the problems that noble Lords have identified. The amendments suggest two possible alternative ways forward; the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis, suggested another rather imaginative way to tackle the problem, as did my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay.
The noble Lord, Lord Winston, drew our attention to a slightly different dimension of the issuethe
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I am just sorry that the noble Baroness did not warm to the amendments a little 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 privacyrights that should certainly not be overlooked in this equationare 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. I look forward to further discussions, helpfully offered by the noble Baroness, between now and Report. In anticipation of those, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Earl said: This amendment can be dealt with, I hope, quite speedily. I suppose I can live in hope. The Bill would give a right to the donor-conceived person to make a request to the registrar to receive identifiable and non-identifiable information about his or her donor parent. I support those provisions.
The question raised by my amendment is whether that right should be extended to the children of a donor-conceived person in certain circumstances. If, for example, a woman with a young family discovers that she was donor-conceived, but dies before she has the chance to make an information request, there would appear to be no means for the authority to provide the relevant information to those members of her family with a direct interest in it. I question whether the Bill may be overly restrictive in that sense and would be glad to hear the Ministers reaction. I beg to move.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: The amendment would enable the children of donor-conceived people to contact the HFEA to obtain information from the register regarding their parents donor, in the situation where the parent has not contacted the HFEA themselves. This is a situation in which we must look at the impact very carefully.
We recognise that this information is likely to be of interest to the children of donor-conceived people, if the donor-conceived person himself has not accessed it. Since the removal of donor anonymity in 2005, donor-conceived people are able to get identifying information about their donor from the HFEAs register. This includes the donors last known address. Hence, donor-conceived children, having sought this information from the HFEA, may receive information which enables them to find their donor. As donors are able to donate for up to 10 familiesas we discussed earlierthere are possibly more than 10 children born as a result.
If we were to extend this provision to children of donor-conceived people, there could be substantially more children who could, in theory, have identifying information about a donor who might still be alive. If the children of children were to contact the donor, there could be a small army at somebodys door.
The Government recognise that it is important for both donor-conceived people and their children to be able to know about their genetic origins. However, in this situation, we must also take the needs of the donors into account. That information should be sought by the donor-conceived person, if they choose to do so, and passed on to their children. I invite the noble Earl to withdraw the amendment.
Earl Howe: I am very disappointed by that reply because, although the Minister envisions armies of people descending on the HFEA asking for information, the amendment posits that only one approach may be made per family: that you can have only one bite of the cherry in one instance. It is as if a child steps into
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