Thursday, March 09, 2006

Unbelievable – Questiontime panellists express touching concern about the child’s need for a father in the Natalie Evans case, as a justification for destroying the child’s life

I couldn’t believe my ears hearing the panellists on Questiontime cite the child’s need for a father as a reason for agreeing to the destruction of Natalie Evans embryos, following her losing her case for custody of the embryos against her ex-partner Howard Johnston who withdrew his consent to IVF treatment after the embryos had been created. As much as I support the child’s need for a father, how on earth can a need for a father be more basic than life and the right of the embryos not be destroyed once they have been created? Add in the fact that Hazel Blears representing the Government have been responsible for undermining the child’s right to a father without any parliamentary debate, through the HFEA, whose unelected and unaccountable ex-chair, Suzi Leather, made pronouncements last year about the child’s right to a father being removed from statute so that single women could receive IVF, and the whole thing struck me as ridiculous, muddle headed and more than a little hypocritical.

I was also astonished that Michael Nazir Ali, Bishop of Rochester who chaired the HFEA’s ethics committee admitted frankly that he did not know who had the right to custody of the embryos, Natalie or her ex-partner. While the HFEA should not be a decision making body, this just goes to highlight the total inadequacy of the HFEA’s understanding of ethics and the fact that the HFEA ethics committee is not just a democratic farce but an intellectual shambles. It is clearly endowed with a power far in excess of its capabilities.

In any case are the ethics really so complex? How on earth can anyone weighing what each party loses side with anyone other than Natalie and the embryos who respectively lose their right to motherhood and life against a man who loses nothing by the implantation of embryos he previously consented to creating? Natalie has undergone a much more serious invasive procedures to produce the embryos than her ex-partner, why should all the egg harvesting, injections and invasive treatment be all in vain because he has changed his mind? The physical consequences of terminating the embryos or implanting them concerns Natalie and the embryos and has no physical impact on her ex-partner. Any attempt to turn this scenario on its head and ask if a woman could be forced to carry embryos if the woman withdrew her consent instead, simply misses the point that the Natalie Evans case does not in any way involve a lack of the woman’s consent to pregnancy.

The current law on consent may side with Howard Johnston but that only proves that the law must change. Consent should only apply to the creation of the embryos and should then be irrevocable, just as marital separation doesn’t give the male partner the right to insist on the destruction of children. It is not as though Howard Johnston’s sperm was used against his will. Writing in the Evening Standard, Will Self says that “Mr Johnston has made statements that exhibit an emotional intelligence all too often far from men’s minds during the act of conception. He has said that IVF is “something that you should undertake as a couple in a stable relationship where the key consideration is the welfare of any offspring. And that he couldn’t countenance having nothing to do with his child, despite knowing that he was somewhere in the world” . All of which is fine and admirable in the context of good fatherhood, but how can it be good fatherhood to insist on the destruction of embryos? Shouldn’t consent to IVF involve a commitment to the children first that isn’t subject to a future change of mind?

8 Comments:

Anonymous henry, Durham said...

An embryo is not a child. I mean, it wouldn't really be as emotive on a pro-life poster now would it?

11:22 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

That's an interesting point but Natalie Evans obviously feels great emotion towards her embryos, just as parents equally awaiting the birth of a child see their children in the ultrasound scans. Who decides what is emotive? Natalie Evans, the parents I have referred to or you?

To resolve this we could look at the science to see whether the emotion evoked by the early embryo or by ultrasound scans is rational. To ask the obvious question, if a human embryo isn't a child, what is it? The scientific fact is that the embryo is a unique human being at an early stage of development, which is not that far different in terms of definition to the newborn baby which is obviously again a young human being (which again looks immensely different from an adult). It is a fact rather than a matter of opinion that the early embryo is a child and just because a parent might neglect or disown or dislike the appearance of their child does not mean that the child suddenly is not a child just because one parent does not feel emotion for the child.

Children look different at different ages (it being a catch all generic category for babies, toddlers, infants, 4-10 year olds, and teenagers). It's no great surprise that the embryo before implantation looks as it does. It's just a natural stage of development. Changing physical appearance doesn't alter instrinsic human worth.

5:18 AM  
Anonymous henry, Durham said...

Changing physical appearance? From a group of cells to when the doctor cuts the cord? Thats quite some "change"

Besides, she wanted to have children in the future. She did not refer to "her" children as the ones in the deep freeze.

7:08 AM  
Blogger Fiona said...

yeah, and my physical appearance has changed dramatically since I was a newborn to my mid-twenties, how about you? ;o)

people who go through IVF do commonly refer to their embryos as their children.

7:50 AM  
Blogger Liz said...

Interestingly, Fiona, most pro choicers I spoke to about it supported the man in this case. It is more about the right not to reproduce than the right to. And it put their usual claims about women's rights under question too.

12:05 PM  
Blogger Adrian Yalland said...

if an embryo isn't a child, then what is it exactly? A goldfish?

It might not 'look' like a child, but that isn't the point. Our humanity is not defined by our looks - but by what makes us human!

And I am afraid to say that all that was required to make those embryos human took place when they eggs where fertilzed and life was created!

5:59 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In this world,most of us if not all believe there are human rights.
Where is Natalie's right? Her ex-partner thinks he has a right not to give consent for the embryo to be used under human rights. How right will it be under the same law if Natalie's right to the embryos is not taken into account and the embryos are destroyed.Is there a law that allows destruction of the embryo if only one of the couple withdraws his or her consent. It took two to make the consent hence one person can not use his or her right for destruction of the embryos.As human beings we should not forget everyone has a right whether
he or she wants to use that right. Natalie and her ex-partner will need to make a decision as one's right over the other is not justified.I hope this situation can result in a manner that each person's right is justified.

"Just as
Natalie cannot use the embryos without his consent, she too has a right to that embryo and should be involved in decision whether embryos are kept or destroyed."

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

From the point of view of the father, it's no surprise he didn't give his permission.
He's being pretty clever talking about how he doesn't want the child growing up without him as a father.
As reported in the press, he is earning significantly more money now than he was when he was with Natalie. My guess is that he is concerned that he will be hit for punitive child support demands, taking a huge chunk of money out of his earnings, for a child that he didn't agree to have.

I'm not going to go as far as to suggest that Natalie would actually be aiming to have a large supplementary income from her former partner - it would be very much a secondary issue - but she, along with her current partner, would hardly be unhappy to be receiving this money.

Perhaps he's just not that keen to give away £1000+ a month for 18 yeards to support a child he will never meet.

5:20 PM  

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