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Transferring parentage

06 Sep 2019 / Family law Print

The grim consequences of ‘transferring parentage’

Last December, Dr Joanna Rose, who is donor-conceived, and I attended a meeting of the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Health to discuss the Assisted Human Reproduction Bill 2017 (AHR Bill).

She, like thousands of Irish citizens, is forbidden from ever knowing her father (for many it is their mother) and half of her entire family.

I am allowed to know all of my siblings, my grandparents, cousins, relations, to grow up with them, to choose who I will keep up with in adulthood, to know my family tree, should I so wish, because I am not donor-conceived.

As an atheist and liberal, I share few of the views of newspaper columnist Breda O’Brien. However, she was correct (Irish Times, 20 July 2019) in describing the tone with which Dr Rose (the only donor-conceived person invited to address the Joint Committee on Health) and I were addressed that day.

Deputy Kate O’Connell dismissed Dr Rose’s professional integrity and, shockingly, her lived experience, as mere “opinion”.

Perverse

It seemed somewhat perverse to completely disregard a vulnerable group being discriminated against in order to uphold an ideology of love and equality.

The AHR Bill proposes to allow ‘left-over’ embryos to have their ‘parentage transferred’. This embryo will become a child with brothers and sisters who live with their shared parents, while they cannot do the same.

The psychological impact is devastating. 

If every word of this bill, every word coming from the fertility industry, is interpreted through the lens of a commercial business, so much of it makes sense.

When viewed through the eyes of a human, it is perhaps one of the most inhumane, cruel practices that exists in western civilisation.

Personal relations

Dr Rose and I pointed out that the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child says that state parties must ensure that all children, without discrimination, are allowed to know and be raised by their parents (including biological parents), where possible.

State parties “must ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the development and upbringing of the child” and that any child separated from a parent has the right to “maintain on a regular basis personal relations and direct contact with both parents”.

Ban on anonymity

The Joint Committee on Health said that children in Ireland would be allowed to know their biological family on turning 18 – if the ban on anonymity were commenced. We pointed out that this was a right of the child, not just the adult.

The use of anonymous egg/sperm in creating children is banned in most European countries – including in Britain since 2005 and in Sweden since 1984.

The harm is well recognised. In Germany, it has always been against the law to create children from anonymous sperm, from another woman’s eggs, or to transfer an embryo. These are crimes that incur a fine and/or prison sentence of up to three years.

Although Ireland legislated to ban anonymous parentage as late as April 2015 – vowing to protect children and put their best interests first – this ban has not yet been commenced.

Representatives of the fertility industry are still fighting hard to prevent it from commencing. One reason given was “job losses in the sector”.

Tragic circumstances

Donor-conceived babies, unlike adoptees, are not separated from kin because of tragic or unpreventable circumstances.

Tragic circumstances are created for them. This is not IVF. These children are created only if clinics have first ensured that their biological mother/father do not wish to have the child.

A Dublin fertility clinic claims that “there are no adverse cases to date”.

They fail to elaborate that around 95% of donor-conceived people in Ireland do not know they are not related to the person(s) raising them, nor that the majority of donor-conceived people in Ireland are still minors and that it will be years, even decades, before they find out, or before they are capable of fully processing the impact.

It takes emotional fortitude. It also takes a personal and financial toll.

Have we learned nothing?

And then they will be asking, as people like Anne Crossey from Cork are beginning to, how we in Ireland, of all places, stood by and learned nothing from our dark history – that transferring parentage for the ‘betterment’ of the adult world has profound, lifelong consequences for these children.

Emma O’Friel
Emma O’Friel is an assistant psychologist and researcher