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Clinics may not have to consider child's “need for a father” when offering IVF

BMJ 2006; 333 doi: (Published 20 July 2006) Cite this as: BMJ 2006;333:170
  1. Clare Dyer, legal correspondent
  1. BMJ

    The government is poised for a rethink of the law on in vitro fertilisation (IVF), which is expected to abolish the requirement of clinics to consider a child's “need for a father” when deciding who to treat.

    The change would give lesbians and single mothers the same access to infertility services as mothers with male partners.

    The present law governing licensed clinics, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990, says that a woman may not be given treatment unless account has been taken of the welfare of the resulting child—“including the need of that child for a father.” This last phrase was not in the original bill but was added during its parliamentary passage as a concession to those who opposed the provision of such services to single women and lesbians.

    The clause does not ban treatment for single women or lesbians but makes it easier for clinics to refuse them treatment.

    More than 50 MPs have signed a motion pressing for the clause to be removed when the new law to replace the act is drafted. The House of Commons science and technology committee, the BMA, and the British Fertility Society, representing infertility experts, all argue that it is discriminatory.

    The clearest indication yet that the change will be included in a white paper expected later this year came last week from health minister Caroline Flint as she gave evidence to the science and technology committee on proposed changes to the legislation.

    “We are minded to retain a duty in terms of the welfare of the child being taken into account, but we are thinking there is probably less of a case for a retention in law to the reference for a father,” she said.

    “That does not mean fathers are not important. What's important is that the children are going to be, as far as we know, part of a loving family. We are considering whether the need for a father is something we need to have,” she told MPs.

    She also indicated that the new law will probably spell out a ban on parents seeking to chose a baby's sex to balance their families. Sex selection will be allowed only for medical reasons, such as to prevent the birth of babies with sex linked conditions. Rules issued in 2003 ban sex selection for non-medical reasons in treatment for in vitro fertilisation, but the subject is not covered by the act.

    “We do feel there should be a specific ban. I think on family balancing, the problem is it is a slippery slope in terms of people deciding one gender is more important than another,” she added.

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