Bewitched, Bothered, and Bewildered

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Lest you be unaware that England is morally and intellectually bankrupt, consider the following: the chief of the little island’s fertility authority is going to ask for an end to a British law that required children born by in-vitro-fertilization to have a father. The mind reels! A "fertility authority!"

It is preposterous enough that the English government has a "fertility authority." (If we have one here, please don’t tell me. I’d prefer not to know.) The full and orotund name of the organization is the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority. Its head is a Ms. Suzi Leather, who is NOT, I emphasize, married to the Rt. Hon. G. Whipson Chainz. Ms. Leather is in a snit because the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act of 1990 requires that test-tube babies have fathers. The idea, says Ms. Leather, is anachronistic! Well, who can argue with that! Not only is the idea of fatherhood as old as, well, fatherhood, but it remains pretty much in force today. Does Ms. Leather think that children are conceived in-vitro with no male assistance? Just as a matter of simple fact and logic, ALL children have fathers, and will have, until women succeed in becoming hermaphrodites, in which case, no doubt, the female side of the creature will come to hate the male.

Laws requiring children to have fathers, by which is apparently meant a male person in the household while the children are growing up, are out of step with modern society. "It is absolutely clear if you think about the changes in society and the different ways that families can be constituted," she says, "that it is anachronistic for the law to include the statement about the child’s need for a father. It seems to me a bit of a nonsense to have that still in the legislation." Ms. Leather would like the 1990 law updated. "My personal view is that there should be more equal access to fertility treatment. I don’t think single and lesbian women should be excluded solely on the grounds (that there is no father). There are certain circumstances in which children can grow up happy and well parented in the absence of a man."

True enough. There are even certain circumstances in which children can grow up happy living in trees, or caves. Should we do away with any laws that call for children to be well housed? More to the point, should we adopt or alter laws so that people can have whatever they want, no matter how bizarre or improbable?

Single and/or lesbian women do not have children. If they do not wish to have a bastard, or adopt (if possible) then, it would seem, they are out of luck. Need society, in its legislation, adapt itself to their whim? If they nonetheless are determined to have a child, with no contact (except vicariously and under glass!!!) with a male, it is possible, at great expense and inconvenience, to do so, in some cases. Do the resulting infants have any less need for a man around the house than normally conceived and born children? Of course, if the law to which Ms. Leather objects requires only children conceived in-vitro to have fathers, while those born out of wedlock, or being raised by divorced mothers, need not, then she has a point.

Ultimately, it would seem that her complaint arises from the existence of a law, as so often happens! Is such a law necessary or desirable? Is every possible human activity to be legislated? It might be argued that the law strengthens marriage, requiring at least these — if not all — children to have normal (male/female) parents. True enough, but if the only thing holding society, which is based upon the normal family, together is a law; i.e., compulsion, then society is already moribund.

It’s interesting that Ms. Leather is also gnashing her teeth at the activities of Panos Zavos, an American (!!) professor who has announced his cloning of the world’s first human baby. He is guilty, Ms. Leather believes, of "breathtaking hubris." Wow! "Stunts like his press conference risk bringing fertility treatment and reproductive science into disrepute." Conceiving a baby in a test tube, of course, is not a "stunt," and brings only esteem and honor to those who do it! But maybe Ms. Leather is simply envious. She wants babies without fathers; Zavos wants babies without any parents whatever! In any event, one can be sadly sure that government will rush in to add its two-cents worth: force compounding foolishness! It’s what governments do.

Dr. Hein [send him mail] is a retired ophthalmologist in St. Louis, and the author of All Work & No Pay.

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