IVF Children Need Fathers, says Church of England

The Church of England's Mission and Public Affairs Council has challenged an apparent Government U-turn on a child's need for a father in a response to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill.

On the question of children born via IVF, the Council said that removing the requirement to take account of 'the need of that child for a father' from the Draft Human Tissue and Embryos Bill "would send an entirely erroneous signal about the significance of fathers especially at a time when many children and families are suffering because of lack of attention and care from absent fathers".

The Council reminded the Government that it had on numerous occassions stated that it was better for a child to have both a father and a mother.

"We are concerned that the Government now appears to have abandoned these views in deciding to remove the 'need of a child for a father' clause and in shifting the emphasis from the welfare of the child to the desires and supposed rights of adults to be able to have a child using IVF," it said.

The Council called on the Government to uphold the need of a child for a father, however.

"We urge the Government to retain the need of a child for a father clause," it continued.

"We believe that the only way to address the drift towards personal procreative autonomy becoming the only ethical consideration is to stipulate in law that the welfare of the child to be born after IVF is paramount, in the same way as this is already dictated in the Adoption and Children Act 2002."

The Mission and Public Affairs Council also gave a cautious acceptance to the proposal to produce cytoplasmic hybrid embryos for research into the alleviation of serious diseases.

It accused the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee (STC), however, of "a serious disregard for ethics in favour of seeking scientific knowledge by all available means".

It went on to warn the STC that its recommended approach to human tissue and embryos would allow the production of all possible kinds of hybrids and chimeras, including 'true' hybrids. The Church of England warned it would not be able to support such a position.

"Though the majority of such hybrids would be unlikely to be viable," said the Council in its response, "the STC's approach would even allow the fertilisation of a human egg by non-human primate sperm or vice versa, with increased likelihood of viability.

"Such a suggestion betrays a serious disregard for ethics in favour of seeking scientific knowledge by all available means."

The response also voices concern that the STC apparently proposes that the 14-day limit for embryos created using material from more than one species might be extended if proved necessary. It sees this as an invitation to pressure from researchers to remove a carefully drawn boundary.

The Mission and Public Affairs Council takes a slightly more open line on cloned embryos, including those produced using cell nuclear replacement or CNR, as in the case of Dolly the sheep. The Council takes the position that such cloned embryos could still, in theory, become persons bearing the image of God.

CNR embryos, it says, therefore still merit a special status and protection, even though they are produced asexually and may not be intended to give rise to human beings. CNR embryos should never be produced with the intention or possibility of being developed beyond the 14-day limit. Within that limit, strictly controlled experimentation may be permissible, the response allows, it said.

The Council acknowledged that many Christians who accept the creation of embryonic stem cells by CNR using only human material feel deeply uncomfortable about creating cytoplasmic hybrids, even for research.

The response also re-iterates the Church's view that no embryo, however created, should be used, selected against or destroyed for "trivial reasons".