The latest Family Education Trust conference, in central London, faced up to challenges posed by new reproductive technologies and an intrusive State.
Dr Calum MacKellar, director of research at the Scottish Council on Human Bioethics, examined how we are to view identity and parenthood in a non-ideal world in which children can be produced without there being any relationship between their biological parents; what we are to make of new legislation that permits the use of biological material from a father and two mothers, giving rise to three-parent children; and the emerging possibility of producing sperm cells from the stem cells of a woman, or eggs from the stem cells of a man.
He provided a surefooted guide to these and other ethical issues. He warned of the risk of genetic and medical harm to children conceived in these ways, and of the danger of treating children like mere products created to match the specifications of their parents.
The future prospect of a woman being able to produce a child by herself, through self-fertilisation using her own sperm, would effectively make the woman both father and mother of the child. Without the involvement of a man, fathers would be redundant.
There was also the possibility of producing artificial sperm and eggs from cells taken from another individual without his or her consent. And, when embryonic stem cells were used, the child’s parent would effectively be destroyed before the resulting child was even brought into existence.
Such scenarios not only raise significant ethical concerns, but also present major psychological challenges for children born by these means, as well as for their sense of identity.
Dr MacKellar noted that both the scientific community and political establishment in the UK were inclined to the view that, if a new technology is possible and useful, it is automatically ethical. Keen to be at the forefront of technological advances, they resist thinking through the implications and consequences.
Speaking at the same conference, journalist and author James Bartholomew gave examples of how an unholy ‘SMAF’ alliance — State, media, academia and feminists — has conspired against the family in key areas of public policy.
He referred to ‘the eleventh commandment’ of academic child development, ‘Thou shalt not speak ill of day care’, and showed how feminist influences have viewed divorce and births outside marriage in a favourable light, since they demonstrate a woman can live independently of a man.
Citing changes in fiscal policy during the 1970s, Mr Bartholomew noted that the State had undermined the family at both ends of the age spectrum. Government policy had raised the expectation that both children and the elderly will be cared for outside the family.
Alongside the widespread decline in the importance attached to the family, the State had developed a conviction it has a right and a duty to intervene more in family life. But Mr Bartholomew appealed to the conference never to tire of fighting back in the face of SMAF opposition to the family.
Earlier in the day, Family Education Trust director Norman Wells, had highlighted several areas where parents are currently being undermined in family and education policy. Since all parents are fallible, it is perfectly true ‘parents do not always know what is best for their children’, but it is equally true that governments don’t always know what is best for children either. Yet, when governments get things wrong, the resulting damage to children is on a far larger scale than when individual parents make mistakes.
Quoting an American social commentator, he commented: ‘[We should be] cautious of recommendations decreasing the role of parents and increasing the role of the State in family life. Children’s rights’ theory claims to promote the welfare of children. But, in reality, it throws children into the arms of State professionals, who may be filled with big ideas, but are empty of the bonds of family love’.
Mr Wells concluded, ‘It is vital we resist the nationalisation of childhood and uphold the principle that it is parents, and not the State, who bear the primary responsibility for the care, nurture and education of their children’.