Not Even Science Fiction Foresaw the End of Fathers

By Patten, John | The Spectator, May 3, 2008 | Go to article overview

Not Even Science Fiction Foresaw the End of Fathers


Patten, John, The Spectator


'Down with Clause 14(2) (b)' is hardly a snappy slogan. It is not even as succinct as 'Abolish Clause 28 now!', the phrase that so resonated back in the days of the furore over the teaching of alternative lifestyles. But this dense little bit of the parliamentary counsel's art, buried deep away in the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill soon to go to the House of Commons, contains the only attempt anywhere in the world by a government to abolish fatherhood. A first for Gordon Brown, then.

For this provision would explicitly forbid fathers to some children conceived by artificial means. Yet earlier in the House of Lords, discussion on this destructive proposal was overshadowed by the evermounting concern about animal/human hybrids. So much so, that more than once sitting on the red benches I thought that I sensed the spectral presence very nearby of Lord Feverstone. An all-too-lifelike 'medical peer', engineered by C.S. Lewis in 1945, his lordship had set up the deliciously titled 'National Institute for Co-ordinated Experiments', with the aim of a little selective breeding himself.

This is exactly the approach that the government favours, for sometimes you can, but sometimes you must not. For example, ministers appear stalwart to prevent deaf couples from ensuring that they have deaf children. They state, 'Outside the UK, the positive selection of deaf donors in order deliberately to result in a deaf child has been reported. This provision would prevent selection for a similar purpose' (Explanatory Notes to the Bill, para. 110).

That sentiment is worth a quick 'Hear, Hear'. Much less so is the government's wish permanently to damage the life chances of other less fortunate embryos, who are to be barred at conception from having a father (down with these curious creatures! ). Rather bring on something called by ministers 'supportive parenting'. This is a brand new piece of signature workhorse cant, ranking high up there with the parameaningless, alongside the likes of 'stakeholder' -- but it is not just irritating. For the government is busily deconstructing the very meaning of fatherhood, relegating it to some postmodern anachronism. This flies full in the face of the dictum in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that they all have 'the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents', apart from anything else.

Such discrimination against men who are fathers thus fails to give either respect or equality of esteem to one of the sexes. So malign signals are to be deliberately sent out about the lack of value fathers may provide to an artificially conceived girl or boy.

We should signal rather that fathers are vital to the health and moral wellbeing of the next generation, to affirm that this timeless role must not be written out of the parenting equation incrementally. Above all that the state must not conspire against a child in its inherent state of weakness.

We all salute and admire mothers -- and a bit more rarely, fathers -- who have to bring up families alone. Voluntary organisations, local authorities, government and the churches strive to offer support. But finding oneself or choosing to be a single parent is very different from deeming as father unnecessary. Our rulers are trying to railroad through a provision by the force of the Whips that ensures children may be brought into being by science but then promptly denied a father by politicians. …

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