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Children need a father, Sentamu tells the Lords

22 November 2007

by Rachel Harden

Other concerns: protesters demonstrate at Westminster on Monday afternoon as the House of Lords debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Other concerns: protesters demonstrate at Westminster on Monday afternoon as the House of Lords debate the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

CHURCH LEADERS and peers spoke out strongly this week against the Government’s plans to reform fertility laws that would effectively give lesbian couples the right to a child without any lasting involvement from the father.

Speaking during the House of Lords debate on the second reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, called on the Government to abandon its plans to remove the requirement for a father in IVF treatment.

He said the proposals would “create a false dichotomy which seeks to place ‘the welfare and needs of the child’ against a child’s need for a father. My Lords, I am bound to ask since when did these become competing requirements? Is it not self-evident that ‘the welfare and needs of a child’ are enhanced and met when there is a father present as against there being no father at all?

“The Government’s response is not based on the welfare of the child, but rather upon the desires of those who feel they should have a child as of right, without the need for a father.”

The Bishop of St Albans, the Rt Revd Christopher Herbert, a member of the joint committee that scrutinised the draft Bill, also spoke in the debate about some of the ethical issues underlying the Bill.

He said that it was vital to revisit the question: what was the moral status of the human embryo? “Ethically, that question lies at the heart of this Bill, and, because of changes in science and technology and changes in public attitudes, it needs to be debated again.”

The debate was later abandoned after Lord Brennan (Labour) collapsed in the Chamber during a speech by Lady Paisley, wife of the DUP leader, the Revd Ian Paisley. Lord Brennan was given first aid by other peers, including a surgeon, and taken to hospital.

In a letter to The Times on Monday, Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor said that the Bill radically undermined the place of a father in a child’s life. “The Bill proposes to remove the need for IVF providers to take into account the child’s need for a father when considering an IVF application and to confer legal parenthood on people who have no biological relationship to a child born as a result of IVF.

“This radically undermines the place of the father in a child’s life, and makes the natural rights of the child subordinate to the desires of the couple. It is profoundly wrong.” Although the Bill is a government one, a number of Labour peers and MPs have said that they are unhappy with it, and about 40 MPs have signed a Commons motion opposing the plans. Conservative MPs and peers have been given a free vote.

The Bill was defended in the Upper House by Lord Darzi, who said that the changes would ensure that the law was “reflective of modern society”. The Bill included clear recognition of same-sex couples as legal parents of children conceived through the use of donated sperm, eggs, or embryos.

But other peers spoke against it, including the cross-bencher Lord Alton and the Conservative Lord Mackay, who steered the previous 1990 Act through the Lords.

The Bill is not expected to come before MPs until some time next year.

Can a woman replace a father? Vote here.

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