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Ethicist warns on Reproductive Technology threat to children's rights

Salesian bioethicist Fr Norman Ford has said the practice anonymous donor conception in infertility clinics denies children the right to know and be loved by their natural fathers during their formative years.

Fr Ford, who directs Melbourne's Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics, was commenting on a Victorian Law Reform Commission Consultation Paper, at the Australasian Bioethics Association Conference at the University of New South Wales last weekend. The document, prepared at the request of state Attorney-General Rob Hulls, discusses possible changes to the law to permit access to licensed Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) clinics by single or lesbian fertile women to bear donor-conceived (DC) children.

Fr Ford said many adopted children who have experienced the benefits of good social parenting still yearn to know their biological parents.

"Children are persons in their own right," he said. "Our genetic heritage is important and belongs to our identity. The biological bonds between children and both parents entitles them to live and behave as equal members of their families and are the basis of their ties with their extended family members. "

He said many children of single mothers have a need to know, to love and be loved by their biological fathers.

"Social workers are aware of the pain inflicted on children by the absence of their unknown natural fathers during their formative years.

"It is unethical to deliberately break the natural tie linking the child's biological father with the child. It would be akin to natural injustice for young children of single or lesbian mothers to be deliberately deprived of the chance to know or be raised by their biological fathers through recourse to anonymous donor conception.

"It would not be unthinkable for adult DC-children raised without fathers to seek compensation from their mothers for the suffering endured during their formative years caused by the absence of their biological fathers.

"Access to ART clinics should be restricted to infertile heterosexual couples to protect the best interests of children.. This would at least guarantee that DC-children would be raised by their mothers and social, if not biological, fathers."

Fr Ford said that he does not see any justification for the state to grant fertile single or lesbian women, legal access to licensed ART clinics to deliberately engineer anonymous DC- children who would be deprived of a chance to know and to be loved by their biological fathers during their formative years.

"The state should not sanction social experimentation by allowing children to be raised fatherless by granting single and lesbian women access to ART clinics. The onus is on those who wish to change the law to prove that DC-children of single and lesbian women are not thereby put at risk of any harm by being raised in the absence of a father."

Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) and rights of children to have fathers (Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics 16/11/04)

Assisted Reproduction and Adoption: Consultation Paper (Victorian Law Reform Commission)
Caroline Chisholm Centre for Health Ethics
Ethicist says no room for compromise on rights of human embryo (CathNews 11/11/04)
Ethicist stresses moral inviolability of embryonic stem cells (CathNews 5/10/04)
Australian ethicist rethinks position on 'vegetative state' (CathNews 12/7/04)

17 Nov 2004