Another blow to fatherhood: IVF mothers can name ANYONE as 'father' on birth certificate
By Fiona Macrae
01st March 2009
Family values were under attack again last night with the news that single women having IVF will be able to name anyone they like as their baby's father on the birth certificate.
New regulations mean that a mother could nominate another woman to be her child's 'father'.
The 'father' does not need to be genetically related to the baby, nor be in any sort of romantic relationship with the mother.
Critics have sounded a warning about the ability of single women who have successful IVF treatment to nominate a person as the 'father'
Critics said a woman could list her best friend on the birth certificate. The word 'father' may even be replaced with the phrase 'second parent'.
The second parent, who will have to consent to being named, will take on the legal and moral responsibilities of parenthood.
This raises the spectre of a legal minefield in which female 'fathers' will fight for visitation rights and be chased for child support payments if their fragile relationship with the mother breaks down.
The changes, due to come in on April 6, will apply to many of the women who have IVF using sperm from anonymous donors.
The regulations are part of the controversial Embryology Bill passed by Parliament last year. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority said they will give lesbian couples in civil partnerships who undergo IVF the same rights as married heterosexual couples.
An unmarried man whose girlfriend has fertility treatment will also find it easier to claim full parental rights.
The new rules state: 'The women receiving treatment with donor sperm (or embryos created with donor sperm) can consent to any man or woman being the father or second parent.' The only exemption is close blood relatives.
Critics said the change would lead to the role of father being downgraded to the one of godfather and warned that the child would be the one to lose out.
Baroness Deech, a former chairman of the HFEA, said the practice would lead to the ' falsification of the birth certificate'.
She said: 'This is putting the rights of the parents way above those of the child. It is absurd that anyone can be named as the father or the second parent.'
Dr Trevor Stammers, a GP and lecturer in healthcare ethics, questioned the strength of the relationships or friendships between the mother and 'father'.
He said: 'There is no doubt from sociological evidence accumulated over the past few years that children do best in a two-parent married family with heterosexual couples being the married parents.
'It probably will be the child that is the loser but by the time we find that out, in 15 or 16 years, a huge amount of damage will have been done.'
Geraldine Smith, Labour MP for Morecambe, said a birth certificate should be a true record of a child's genetic heritage. She added: 'I don't think the state should collude with parents to conceal the true genetic identity.'
David Jones, a professor of bioethics, likened the role of second parent to that of godparent. He added: 'This sounds like social engineering on the hoof.'
Philippa Taylor, of Christian charity CARE, said: 'We are going to get to the point where a birth certificate is not going to be a true statement of anyone's biological heritage.'
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith said a father played an essential role in the development of a child. He added: 'The present Government seems not to care a damn about families.
'Teenage pregnancy is on the increase, abortion is on the increase, family breakdown is at record levels and we have got a growing number of dysfunctional children that are the product of broken homes.
'The lesson seems to be loud and clear to me that fathers are required.'
Tory MP Ann Widdecombe said the change would destroy the 'basic nature' of a man and a woman bringing up a child together as parents.
Other critics said that Labour's family and benefit policies support and reward single parents at the expense of couples and have sidelined marriage as a lifestyle choice with no value for children.
The HFEA said it was unlikely for the actual sperm donor to be named on the birth certificate because the sample is normally obtained from a sperm bank.
It added that the welfare of the child would always come first and any person nominated as a second parent would have counselling to ensure they understood the implications.