Tuesday, 13 October 2009

So what is a parent?

Just back from a weekend in London with our son. It was great to relax, get away from all the pressures and enjoy all the wonderful food that was cooked for us.

I had a reply from the General Medical Council about access to my records. As I thought, records from private clinics were not normally passed to the GMC and since I was born before the National Health Service was established, Dr Reynold Boyd, who carried out the donor insemination process, was legally entitled to destroy his records. Yes, that’s right, medical practitioners in the 20th Century were perfectly entitled to destroy the genetic records of donor offspring! Of course, things will have changed now won’t they? After all slavery has been abolished, women have the vote and buildings must have access to the disabled …..

Not only haven’t they changed but there are people steadily working to ensure that the old records are never uncovered. Why? What were they doing that needs so much shrouding in secrecy? In countries where there is less secrecy donors may have decreased in number but parenthood is not a right. New donors may welcome the opportunity for more openness leading to a different kind of donor profile. This may well change the concept of the nuclear family but that has been changing anyway. There have always been families of stepchildren and half-siblings but now we have new families with parents of the same sex. Like it or not, the family is evolving and adapting to the age in which we live.

In America, lawyers such as Julie Shapiro are trying to define what makes a modern parent. Is it the person who brings you up or is it your biological parent? This debate is not easy as so often the family situations are complex and individual. However, at least a debate is going on. In Britain it is as if the debate has taken place and everything is solved. The new Act of Parliament falls far short of resolving the situation. The law must keep up with the way medical intervention is “assisting” human fertility.

In all this wonderment at the advances in science we must remember that the family created is different from the outset. It is not only the wishes of the parents and donor who must be considered but the wellbeing of the offspring who are not present and not legally represented when the original contract is drawn up. Third party intervention and the presence of a legal contract make it entirely different from normal reproduction.

For every step forward I take in trying to find out my genetic parenthood, I seem to be knocked back two. It is very dispiriting especially at this time. However, I know that there are people who have been trying to breach the Establishment walls of secrecy for some time. Those advances in the treatment of women and the disabled also met with fierce resistance or indifference.

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