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This is an archived website containing material relating to Dr Rowan Williams’ time as Archbishop of Canterbury, which ended on 31st December 2012

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The role of fathers

The important role of fathers

Dr. John Sentamu, the Archbishop of York, in November 2007, called upon the Government to abandon its plans to remove the requirement for a father in IVF treatment.  

Speaking in a debate in House of Lords during the second reading of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill the Archbishop said the proposals:

"Create a false dichotomy which seeks to place 'the welfare and needs of the child' against a child's need for a father. My Lords I am bound to ask since when did these become competing requirements? Is it not self-evident that 'the welfare and needs of a child' are enhanced and met when there is a father present as against there being no father at all? ... The Government's response is not based on the welfare of the child but rather upon the desires of those who feel they should have a child as of right, without the need for a father."

Dr. Sentamu criticised the Government's proposals, suggesting that they are rooted in a right-based mentality which presumed there was a right for people to have a child "by any means necessary" that took precedence over the welfare of the child:

"There is an unhealthy seam of rampant individualism at the heart of this Bill, rooted in a consumerist mentality, where the science that allows something to happen is transformed into the right to have it.

"The competing individualist arias of "I, I, I" and "me, me, me" provide the mood music for an individualism that posits the right of a wannabe parent over the welfare of a child.

"The right of a prospective parent to a child by any means necessary must not triumph over the welfare of children who are brought into the world as a result of the treatment as authorised under the current legislation.... I consider that the child's right not to be deliberately deprived of having a father is greater than any right to 'commission' a child by IVF."

In his speech during the debate Dr. Sentamu also labelled as "bizarre" the proposal under the Bill that would place the duty upon IVF clinics to ensure that prospective parents had appropriate male role models within their social circle, as a replacement for the current "requirement for father" under the current law:

"We are now faced with a Bill which is seeking to formalise the situation where the need for the ultimate male role model – that of the father – is removed in entirety. And we have the bizarre proposal as set out at paragraph 54 of the Government's response to the Joint Committee's Report – in which a child's need for a father is replaced by a delegated system of substitutes, based on HFEA licence holders' assessment of whether prospective mothers may know anyone who may be a good role model! Such is the value placed on a father by this legislation, that it is reduced to a role where any substitute will do."

The Archbishop, who is himself a foster parent, also drew a distinction between those parents who find themselves in the position of raising children without a father and those who would, under the proposals, set out to raise a child without a father by design:

"There is all the difference in the world between a child who finds themselves in a single parent family through bereavement or breakdown of parental relationship, and those who find themselves in this situation by design. And this is precisely what the Government proposes in this bill: the removal, by design, of the father of the child.

"The law is a statement of public policy. This is not about messages which are sent about what is or isn't acceptable in terms of family arrangements, but more fundamentally about the roles of parents, and in particular the need for a father wherever possible."

The Archbishop criticised the Government for its refusal to remove the proposals at the committee stage of the Bill:

"The Government posits its argument on the response by the Science and Technology Committee's report in 2005 that the need for a father is "unjustifiably offensive". Unjustifiably offensive to whom my Lords? To the child who will be dependent upon the love and care of the father? Is the Government really saying that it is basing its response on this issue on whether it gives offence?"

Click on the link for the Archbishop's Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill full speech.