Doctors may disregard 'need for a father' when deciding on IVF
By Nic Fleming
(Filed: 17/08/2005)

Fertility doctors may no longer be required to consider the welfare of the child when carrying out in vitro fertilisation.

Regulations requiring clinicians to take into account "the need of the child for a father" could be scrapped, making it easier for lesbian couples and single women to have IVF babies.

Section 13(5) of the Human Fertilisation Act 1990 states: "a woman shall not be provided with treatment services unless account has been taken of the welfare of the child who may be born as a result of the treatment (including the need of that child for a father)".

The HFEA code of practice requires those assessing couples for IVF treatment to take into account the commitment of the parents to raise children, their age and medical histories, their ability to provide a stable environment and the risk to the child of inherited or transmittable diseases and any potential for neglect or abuse.

Some have questioned why the state should intervene in the reproductive choices of those with fertility problems but not in those who can conceive naturally.

Clinics also vary in the way they apply these stipulations, particularly with regard to the need for a child for a father.

Last year Suzi Leather, the head of the HFEA, called the father rule "nonsense".

She said: "It is absolutely clear if you think about the changes in society and the different ways that families can be constituted that it is anachronistic for the law to include a statement about the child's need for a father."

In March the Commons science and technology select committee called the rule too open to interpretation, offensive and discriminatory to "unconventional families". It also declared that the child welfare clause for assisted reproduction had placed decisions more properly made by patients and their doctors in the hands of the HFEA and clinics, and called for the rule to be abolished.

Fiona Pinto, of the campaign group Comment on Reproductive Ethics, said: "The welfare of the child must remain the most important consideration in IVF treatment. Social practice may move on but children always need fathers. This is a basic human right and it would be madness to remove this requirement."

Caroline Flint, the public health minister, made it clear yesterday that if the rules were changed clinics treating NHS patients would still give priority for IVF paid for by the taxpayer to conventional mixed-sex couples.