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I also need to stress a point that I have obviously not stressed enough. We are moving on to a time when it is not national legislation but European and to some extent international legislation that will determine the limits and constraints that are placed on bioethics and not least on the area of human fertilisation and embryology. This is exactly the area in which, as many of our leading scientists know, the pressures are on to weaken the principles laid down by the HFEA and otherspressures that will grow, not decrease. A body such as a bioethics commission or, I agree, a parliamentary Joint Committee, would be able to bring to the Governments attention the position that it takes on the Council of Ministers of the European Union or, more widely, on international treaty and other organisations. We are on the cusp of moving away from a purely national basis and do not have the proper machinery to deal with that.
With regard to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Warner, I do not disagree with his remarks about the importance of involving Parliament, but if there is not the machinery to oversee what is happening, nothing adequate comes out at the other end. There is a danger of not establishing such a mechanism.
I do not want to detain the House any longer and propose to withdraw the amendment, but I hope that the attention of another place, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, can be drawn to this debate and that it will be taken into account in another place. While at the moment to press this to a Division would be inappropriate, I feel passionately that to abandon this at this moment because there is not going to be a Division could lead us to pass up a huge and essential opportunity to create a machinery and mechanism of oversight that does not exist at present and without which we shall rue the day that we failed to take this opportunity. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
(2) If the Authority, after any such review, and after consulting bodies representing the parents of donor conceived persons, and bodies representing donor conceived persons, recommends that the law and practice should be changed to provide for the inclusion of the fact of donor conception on the birth certificates of donor conceived persons, the Secretary of State may by order implement any such recommendation with such amendments as he shall think fit, and a draft of any such order shall be laid before each House of Parliament and shall only take effect if both Houses approve the draft.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, we return to donor-conceived children and the kind of issue that might be advocated by the committee that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Crosby, would like to see. We have already discussed the desirability of donor-conceived children being told at the earliest possible opportunity of their biological origins. This amendment is concerned with whether the fact of donor conception should appear on the childs birth certificate.
Telling the child is, of course, widely supported, but there is far less agreement about recording the fact on birth certificates. Indeed, the organisations primarily representing donor-conceived people differ: the International Donor Offspring Alliance takes a quite different view from the Donor Conception Network, a self-help group that primarily represents families. The former group, the IDOA, describes itself as,
These two bodies, as I have indicated, take very different views. The IDOA, the international body, feels strongly that the fact of donor conception should be recorded on the birth certificate. The network takes the opposite view. It warmly welcomes the objective and believes that donor-conceived children should be told, but believes that recording the fact of donor conception on the birth certificate is not the right way to achieve that and, indeed, would not be an effective way of doing so. One has to bear in mindI suggested this when the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, replied to the previous debatethe fact that while the treatment is recorded by the HFEA at the time, if it is successful
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Why do the two representative bodies take such opposing views? The argument of the IDOA, which represents donor-conceived people, that the genetic and biological parents, as well as social parents, should be recorded, is based on six propositions. First, genetic heritage has existence. It is a fact, and has meaning and value in itself. Secondly, everyone has a moral right to know. While it cannot be universally enforced, the state should not connive in abrogating that right. Thirdly, because the state intervenes in assisted reproduction, it has a duty to give legal protection to that moral right and should not deceive the child or withhold information about its genetic parents. The genetic regulations give the donor-conceived child the right to find a donors identity, but this is meaningless if many parents continue to conceal the fact of donor conception. Fourthly, the truth must be put in the hands of the offspring for reasons of avoiding consanguinity or even incest. Fifthly, and this is an important fact, falsifying a birth certificate is illegal, so it is discriminatory if the state connives at concealing the fact of donor conception. Finally, only honest and accurate birth certificates would be consistent with the rest of UK law, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and case law under the European Convention on Human Rights.
The Joint Committee found these to be strong and persuasive moral and legal arguments. There are also practical arguments. As I mentioned a moment ago, how are children to find out if they were donor conceived if no one tells them? How can they find out about the medical history of a biological parent? We had the discussion earlier about how that might include grandparents. How can these children be sure of avoiding the risk of consanguinity, or even incest, if they do not have the knowledge that would prompt them to seek assurances from the HFEA? Therefore, the international association argues that that fact must appear on the birth certificate, and the law should be amended to require this.
Let us look at the arguments of the DC network, which conducted a snap survey of network members, all of whom said that they had already told, or would be telling, their children. It showed that the overwhelming majority of respondents were against the birth certification proposal. Many said that they would be prepared to lie to the registrar to protect the privacy of their children or would consider going abroad for a further child in order to avoid appearing on the HFEA register. The network argues:
The proposal might even be counter-productive. Parents who had originally decided not to tell (and didnt tell the registrar) might feel it more difficult to change their minds about telling if they had originally committed an offence in failing to inform the registrar.
They also point out that the law on assisted reproduction, which we have had discussions about in this House, requires absolute confidentiality, on the part of both the clinic and the HFEA. Putting a note or, as was suggested at one point, some sort of code on a babys birth certificate would be a complete break with this protection of a familys privacy and would broadcast to the world how the parents had set about securing the birth of their child.
There are two deeply opposed and strongly held views. I spent most of one Sunday a couple of weeks ago on the telephone to both organisations. Indeed, it was an interesting and revealing day. How are we to find a way through this impasse? What emerged from those discussions is that the opposition to putting the fact on birth certificates stems from a fear that public prejudice may damage the childs chances in life. To many among the general public, donor conception is seen as a novel, perhaps even bizarre, procedure, interfering with nature. However irrational that may appear, it could rub off on to the child and its chances in life. However, even the network saysI pressed it a bit on thisthat attitudes may well change with the passage of time and that, as the public become more familiar with the concept and the practice of donor conception, that prejudice could well subside. There needs to be more public discussion. I read with great interest the article by Libby Purves in the Times a couple of weeks ago, in which she spelt outin the way that only that competent journalist can dothe argument for putting the fact on the birth certificate.
The view from both bodies suggested to me that perhaps a way forward would be to require the HFEA to keep the position under review. That is precisely what subsection (1) in my amendment suggests. I have gone on to argue that if the HFEA decides to recommend a change in the law and the practice so as to require that the fact of donor conception is recorded on the birth certificate, it should not have to wait for primary legislation; therefore, subsection (2) would give the Secretary of State a power to implement the recommendation by order subject to the affirmative procedure. This would require wide consultation and allow Ministers to amend the recommendation if they thought fit.
I cannot claim that this proposal would completely satisfy both campsindeed, it would be fair to say that they would both regard it as second bestbut I think that they would both see it as a reasonable way forward. From the point of view of the Donor Conception Network it does not require the immediate change in the law that it and most of its members would oppose, while from the point of view of the IDOA it offers a possible way forward to achieving its eventual objective.
There has been much talk about the Joint Committee. It is worth looking at the report. We rehearsed all these issues. In paragraph 276 we recommended that as a matter of urgency the Government should give this further consideration. I look forward to the debate and I beg to move.
Baroness Warnock: My Lords, I put my name to this amendment. I have a strong feeling that the proper thing to do is to put by donor on the birth certificate, because that would be honest and it would virtually compel parents to tell their children the truth. I, too, have found that a large number of donor-conceived people are against this view. The amendment offers a way forward and I hope very much that the Government may be inclined to accept it.
I put my faith in the changing attitudes of society. Change will come. Peoples attitudes have already changed towards donor conception, which, after all, has been going on in the form of artificial insemination by donor for years and years. However, it was always regarded as something to be kept desperately secret. That was partly because the attitude of doctors was that they were protecting their patients by insisting on secrecy. They are now much more inclined to think of the interests of the child who may be the result of the birth by donation. There is no doubt whatever that it is in the childs interests to know, or to be able to know eventually, something about their wider family. We may not put quite so much importance on our genealogy as the Icelandic people do, but at least we now recognise that it is an important part of everybodys individuality and sense of their own personality to know and be able to find out not only who their father was but who was their grandmother, their cousin and so on.
Therefore, if the Government are minded to put the same faith in changing attitudes that I have, this might be a profitable way forward, whereby we could advance to making the birth certificate tell the truth in a way that would not involve primary legislation. I very much support the amendment.
Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, I, too, support the amendment. I do not think that we have altogether fully realised that we are in very dangerous waters in this Bill. Time and again we have tried to turn a lie into the truth. A far higher authority than even this House has already decreed that you cannot have two women who are parents. You can have two women who are adopted parents or one who is an adopted parent, but we try to pretend that the truth can and should be distorted for peoples feelings. It is a difficult argument to sustain because the truth has to be faced. Of course the truth is sometimes painful and difficult to face, but it is the truth. If we depart from those principles, we are playing a dangerous part and will pass legislation that is not honourable. As my noble friend Lord Jenkin rightly said, it is an offence to put down a lie on an official document such as a birth certificate.
I am also worried about some of the things that this has led to, such as the fact that somebody who has died can and in future must be, according to the Bill, listed as that childs parent. Everybody knows that you cannot have a baby if you are dead, yet this Bill tries to pretend that you can. That worries me very much. The amendment says that we need to think more carefully about what we are doing; it would enable that to happen, which is why I support it.
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I tried to telephone the Public Bill Office to add my name to the amendment, but for some reason my name did not appear on it. I
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The amendment would also allow orders to be laid before Parliament. If it was decided that change was wanted, primary legislation would not be required. I think that that is a sensible way to proceed.
We have had extensive debate about whether we mark certificates with codes, whether we put donor conceived or whether we do not put anything at all. Different views have been expressed about that. I simply remind the House that in 1989 the United Nations declared that every child has the right,
I strongly agree with that. We all need to know about our genealogy. We need to know who we are, not just for the reasons adumbrated by the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, of consanguinity or incest, but also for those mentioned in our earlier debates about genetics, such as the danger of not knowing about hereditary diseases and of not being able to take early decisions about healthcare if we are unaware of our origins. As my noble friend said, as times move on and people become more used to the kinds of technology that are now so widely usedwhether we are in favour of those is neither here nor therethere will be a greater acceptance of the need to know and the duty to tell. This amendment leaves the door ajar to enable us to do that.
Earl Ferrers: My Lords, I agree with my noble friend Lady Knight when she says that we are going into dangerous waters here and that we do not know what the future is or where we are going. I find this whole problem enormously puzzling because in the old days, which were after all only about 10 years ago, the great thing for those who had children by in vitro fertilisation or by donor was that you should not know who the donor was. There was supposed to be a wall of secrecy, and for good reasons. Now we have gone completely full circle. They say they want to know who the donor was because they want to know where their parentage is. That is perfectly true.
If you look at any family, you often hear people say that one child has the expressions of his father. Often, that is so. If you have put on the record that somebody else is the father, that must be a complete untruth. One ought not to permit an untruth to happen. It seems, then, that it is right to put on the birth certificate that the child is the result of a donor. Yet what happens in
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Lord Mackay of Clashfern: My Lords, the Joint Committee that considered the Bill before it was introduced spent a good deal of time listening to quite moving evidence on both sides of this debate. My noble friend Lord Jenkin of Roding took a major part in analysing that evidence for our benefit.
As I said on Amendment No. 142, what the Government are proposing for certain types of parent inevitably means that it will be obvious on the birth certificate that the particular children affected by these provisions were donor-conceived. I do not think the Minister in disposing of my argument contradicted that in any way. That is discrimination between different children in the same basic area of donor conception. I see the difficulty that is faced in this matter. My noble friends amendment, supported as it is by the great experience of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock, is probably the best way forward at this stage because we try to get a degree of consensus between the people directly involved. As my noble friend has shown, the two organisations that represent these people differently take very different views. Consensus between them at this stage seems rather difficult. This is the best way forward. I certainly support this amendment and take account of the fact that donor conception is already being recognised as inevitably the case in a certain rather small minority of entries in the register that are authorised by the Bill.
Baroness Butler-Sloss: My Lords, I share the disquiet that many noble Lords have expressed about the fact that a birth certificate will not show the honest position. I particularly share the concepts in the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Warnock. Over the next few years there is the possibility of a change of view of those who are particularly opposed to such a course of honesty on the birth certificate at this present moment. This is a sensible amendment, making it possible for a change which would be to the benefit of children if not, in the present view, to the benefit of parents. It would be of advantage if this amendment was accepted by the Government.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I agree with the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, that there is a chance that quite soon opinion will change on this matter, where it has not yet changed. It is extraordinary how quickly children have taken to the knowledge of who their genetic parents were when
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Baroness Barker: My Lords, noble Lords will remember that in Committee I put forward an amendment which suggested that it might be possible to register the fact that someone was born as the result of donor conception by annotating their birth certificate rather than putting the words donor-conceived. I did so having listened to many of the people with whom the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, has been engaged in deep conversation. I commend the noble Lord for putting the views of those organisations and representing them thoroughly and well.
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