It’s another blow to fatherhood, the traditional family, and all things good and pure, squeals the Daily Heil.* What could raise such spleen? By the looks of it, it’s Part 2 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (2008), although the paper doesn’t have the good grace to provide a link. This piece of legislation reduces the place of genetic relationships in respect of fatherhood – in effect, it reflects a shift away from a (presumed) genetic basis for parenthood to a more social basis. Mothers remain gestational, but fatherhood, in the legal sense, becomes a matter of consent. And, with that consent, the named second parent assumes the rights – and, importantly, responsibilities – of the (traditional) father:
Where by virtue of section 33, 35, 36, 42 or 43 a person is to be treated as the mother, father or parent of a child, that person is to be treated in law as the mother, father or parent (as the case may be) of the child for all purposes.
What really gets my goat about the article is the way in which a number of commentators has been wheeled out to provide their anti- soundbites. Balanced it is not. Notably, all the bioethicists quoted are anti-the legislation: there’s no hint that there might be anything good about it from a bioethicist’s point of view. Thus the false impression is given that we’re all of a mind, and that “ethics” roughly equates to a kind of social conservatism.
For the record, and for what it’s worth, I can see lots of good things about the law. Even granted for the sake of the argument that, generally, a hetero and stable marriage provides the best possible start in life for children, it doesn’t follow that the other options are damaging – there’s a false dichotomy here. (Having parents who can take you to the park and play football is probably better than having, say, paraplegic parents – but it doesn’t follow from that that paraplegics even come close to harming their kids. Perfect parents would be great – but none of us has them…) That a non-related person may be able more easily to take on the parental role and responsibilities strikes me as a good thing – and, if you’re a fan of the nuclear family, it ought to strike you similarly. Even if you think that having a nominated second parent is a poor substitute for the traditional father, it is still at least a substitute. It’s better than nothing. (And, of course, it’s not a given that a child always would be better of in a traditional nuclear family.)
But I don’t want this to be a piece about the virtues and vices of a law. Its about the representation of bioethical opinion in the news. I realise that that’s not really a reasonable expectation – the Mail has to sell papers somehow, and it knows what its target market wants to hear – but… grrr. A little bit of thought would be nice. And, if this post achieves anything simply by appearing on Google searches, at least it’ll have gone some way to balancing the picture.
*Oh, all right. I know I’m kicking a puppy.