Monday, 2 March 2009

Hmm, not bad...needs more outrage though!

Another day, Another blow to fatherhood: IVF mothers can name ANYONE as 'father' on birth certificate, yells the Mail in typical style. The first thing to note, of course, is that the headline isn't true. That word in capital letters? You might assume the emphasis is in some way related to the level of truth, but in fact it's the least true word in the title. The HFEA states:

...the woman receiving treatment with donor sperm (or embryos created with donor sperm) can consent to any man or woman being the father or second parent as long as they are not “within prohibited degrees of relationship in relation to each other” as outlined in the law (HFE Act 2008). For example, a close relation such as a brother or aunt.
The Mail eventually concedes this point in the tenth paragraph, meekly retracting the 'ANYONE' of the headline with the line 'The only exemption is close blood relatives'.

The second thing to note is that this isn't actually news. Despite the breathless claim of the opening sentence ("Family values were under attack again last night with the news..."), anyone who had access to a newspaper last May, when the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill was being debated and voted on, would already know about this. It comes into force in a month, no significant votes have been taken recently (it passed its final vote last October), and yet all the papers seem to be covering it over the last couple of days, mostly with the same recycled quotes, presumably because when one news source goes with a story everyone else follows it.

Let's back up a bit here and consider what this 'news' actually means though. Some important points to consider:
1) it relates to people receiving fertility treatment with donated sperm; the resultant children, in cases where the mother is not married, would have no father anyway, so this simply gives the mother the option of appointing a second parent.
2) it can't just be anyone, and that person has to give their full consent. It's not going to be the case that women can now just write 'MICKEY MOUSE LOL!!!' next to 'father' on the birth certificate and suddenly Walt Disney has to keep this kid in nappies.
3) anyone who consents to being nominated as the second parent will have counselling to make sure they understand the implications of what they're signing. For the most part these second parents will be partners of women undergoing fertility treatment, willing to be legally considered the father of the resultant child. Fair enough, right?

Of course, what this glib summary ignores is the massive problem people have with any law that allows non-married people, (or, God forbid, The Gays!!!) to get something approaching the same rights as traditional nuclear families where a man and a woman lovingly hump each other in order to conceive. But what exactly is it that people fear this law will actually change? Do they envisage loving couples conceiving in the normal way, only for the woman to inexplicably go mental, throw the biological father out on the street, and nominate a random butch lesbian they just met as the legal pseudofather? What we have here is a change in the law that allows people receiving IVF to nominate a second carer; if this law didn't come into force, then most of these people would either a) lie on the birth certificate or b) not put anyone down at all. This second, and by far the most likely alternative, would mean *whisper it* she'd be a single mother. (I suppose the almost-heartening implication of it is that the Mail probably now considers single mothers a slightly less nation-destroying social evil than the possibility of gay people somehow being around kids and filling their heads with funny ideas).

Still, let's look at the balanced reaction the Mail gets from a broad cross-section of esteemed social, actually, let's not. Suffice it to say that the next fourteen paragraphs are solely dedicated to criticisms of the bill, including Ann 'Fucking' Widdecombe moaning that it will destroy the 'basic nature' of something or other, Iain 'Iain Duncan Smith' Duncan Smith pointing out how cool dads are, a professor who thinks it's 'social engineering', and a Labour MP suggesting this is 'the state [colluding] with parents to conceal the true genetic identity' of children, apparently oblivious to the notion that children born using donated sperm have long been born without knowing their biological heritage. All in all, seven named critics get to have their say.

A spokesperson for CARE, a lobby group entirely devoted to trying to put Christianity into politics, complains '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', as if current birth certificates are somehow impervious to fraud or deceit. On top of the seven credited complainers, two paragraphs refer to nebulous 'critics', who remain unidentified either because a) their complaints are even stupider than the others, or b) because 'critics' = 'this Mail writer':

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.


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.
Under no possible interpretation of the law does this have any bearing on the roles of actual fathers. It affects only people seeking IVF who are not married or in civil partnerships. If you are married, or an actual biological father, this law is entirely irrelevant to you in real terms. How on earth is the role of father 'downgraded'? It reminds me of the similar whines we heard about civil partnerships, as if letting those weird benders commit to each other in some way sullied PROPER marriage. It's an extension of rights, rather than an assault on the rights of the complainers, surely? The whole thing is just being used as an excuse to dredge up old complaints about unmarried and non-hetero folks conceiving, something that's been legal for ages and has nothing to do with this actual law, which if anything will ensure kids have more people looking out for them than before.

What's interesting about the Mail article is that they seem to have deliberately altered this story from previous, less rabid versions, to ramp up the outrage levels to a height befitting a paper that employs Melanie Phillips. I was Googling for some more info on this and stumbled across a previous version that Google had found:


Note how the title (and it's the same article, check the article number, if you click the Google link it redirects to the story I put at the top) has changed from 'Warning on new IVF laws...' to claim that it's 'Another blow to fatherhood...', in order to emphasise how under attack fathers apparently are. The older version similarly does not capitalise the word 'anyone' in its headline, and starts the piece with the rather mundane 'Single women undergoing IVF will be able to name anyone they like as their baby's father on the birth certificate from next month', as opposed to the palpably more dramatic current version, 'Family values were under attack again last night...'. Have you got it yet? Are you upset enough?

Furthermore, as I scanned the comments for dissenting views (they're the ones helpfully marked with a big red down arrow!), I noticed a reader comment referring to Lib Dem MP Dr Evan Harris ("Liberal Democrat MP Evan Harris.. is another idiot politician", the comment from P M Howell in Athens). I know Harris was a proponent of this bill, so I re-scanned the article for a dissenting opinion from him. As of right now, it's not there. A quick Google search reveals that Harris was indeed quoted in the older version, but as the article was modified (intriguingly moving from the 'Science & Tech' section to 'News' along the way), his quote has gone:


If you're interested in what his quote was, you can still find it in more reputable papers, like The Sun:

Lib Dem MP Evan Harris said: “This is a big step and is unlikely to be taken by someone who does not take their responsibilities seriously.”
All of which leaves the Mail's article with virtually no balance at all. The closest it gets is a grudging nod to the HFEA in the final two paragraphs:

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.
So, it seems like someone, possibly the piece's original author but who knows, has edited the article deliberately to make it more dramatic, specifically removing at least one dissenting quote as they went. Welcome to the glorious world of the Mail!

Anyway, if you're interested in finding out what people other than the 'Hell in a handcart' crowd think of this, just scan the comments for the red arrows. My personal favourite is the one from Sue, Cheshire, who tells a heartfelt story about how she was encouraged to lie on her birth certificate when she and an unnamed other person tried to artificially inseminate 24 years ago. She speaks of how she didn't want to lie, and after some consideration chose adoption instead. As a result of this personal anecdote, Sue is currently on the receiving end of a -56 vote smackdown from the ever-compassionate Mail readers.


  1. Great digging, exposes their attention seeking for just what it is, trolling.

    I'm really enjoying this blog, thanks for making the effort.

  2. Good work, sir!

    The Mail has reached a point beyond parody at which every bloody thing that happens is PC gone mad/social engineering/assault on the traditional family. Their evidence for this? Absolutely none. Just agenda/editorial posing as news.

    Liking the blog, keep it up.