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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 December 2006, 14:12 GMT
IVF father figure clause is to go
Image of a baby
Clinics must consider the welfare of the child
The government is to abolish the requirement for fertility clinics to consider the need for a father when deciding whether to offer treatment.

This means clinics will no longer be able to deny treatment to lesbians and single mothers out of hand.

The new white paper also says both partners in same-sex couples using IVF to conceive will now be legally recognised as parents.

It makes 25 proposals to overhaul outdated laws on assisted reproduction.

It follows a public consultation exercise on the current 16-year-old law, which includes rules on what type of embryo research can be carried out.

The current law, which has served us well, is in need of revision
Caroline Flint, health minister

Ministers felt the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 needed to be updated as science has moved on significantly.

Launching the white paper, health minister Caroline Flint said: "The current law, which has served us well, is in need of revision.

"Technology has changed, and so have attitudes."

The changes

Couples are also to be banned from choosing the sex of their baby for non-medical reasons, such as "family balancing".

DIY home methods of sperm sorting into "male" and "female" would also break the law.

But they will be able to have embryos screened for serious genetic disorders, or to select one that is a suitable tissue match for a sick sibling.

Clinics will still be required to consider the welfare of a child who may be born as a result of treatment, despite protests that couples conceiving naturally do not face similar checks.

Scientists will be able to push forward research in some areas, such as altering the genetic structure of cells that make embryos, but have been banned from using any of such embryo to make a baby.

'Need for the father' removed
Creation of chimeras banned...for now
Regulation of internet sperm services
Welfare of the child checks retained
Sex-selection for non-medical reasons banned
Statutory storage period for embryos extended from five to 10 years
Donors informed if their child is seeking identifying information about them
Parenthood provisions for civil partners and other same-sex couples
Screening embryos for serious medical conditions and as a suitable tissue match permitted
Deliberately screening-in a disease or disorder, such as if two deaf parents wished to have a deaf child, banned
Up to a year 'cooling off' period if consent to embryo storage by one of the couple involved is withdrawn
Donor-conceived children allowed to find out if they have sisters or brothers also conceived through donation, when they reach 18

Similarly, scientists are prohibited from making chimeras - human-animal hybrids - but not necessarily forever.

The law will contain a clause allowing for the possibility that this type of work should be permitted in the future.

Some of the proposed changes have been criticised in some quarters.

Scientists in London, Newcastle and Edinburgh have already applied for permission to create "chimera" clone embryos made from human DNA and the eggs of rabbits or cows.

The HFEA has postponed its decision on whether or not to allow the research until January, but says it will be "mindful" of the government's position.

Dr Stephen Minger, director of the Stem Cell Biology Laboratory at King's College London and who heads one of the teams hoping to make chimeras, criticised the ban, saying it was short-sighted.

Josephine Quintavalle, of Comment on Reproductive Ethics, criticised the removal of the need for a father reference saying: "It's a dreadful statement to make about the role of men. Fatherhood is much more than the donation of sperm.

"We can only hope that parliament will wisely reject the absurd proposal to do away with the child's need for a father."

Liberal Democrat MP Dr Evan Harris welcomed the removal of the need for a father clause.

He said: "It was unjustifiable, discriminatory and vindictive. It was also unsustainable in human rights and equality terms.

"The evidence suggests children do very well brought up by lesbian couples and solo parents, so good riddance."

Anna Smajdor, researcher in medical ethics at Imperial College London, said: "While the removal of the specific reference to a need for a father is on balance a good thing, it still remains utterly bizarre that fertility clinicians should be responsible for making judgements about the suitability of people to be parents."

A spokeswoman from the London Fertility Clinic said he was concerned that banning sex selection for family balancing and social reasons would lead to more abortions.

"IVF of a wanted child is preferable," she said.

The proposals will be debated in Parliament before they can be passed as law.

'We went to Hollywood for IVF'
14 Dec 06 |  Health
How fertility laws might change
16 Aug 05 |  Health
Fertility rules challenged by MPs
03 Jul 06 |  UK Politics
Lesbian couple want 'rare IVF'
19 Apr 05 |  Health

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