Penny Booth: Fertile Imaginings

21 SEP 2010

Penny BoothIt is something of a relief to discover that the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act has teeth after all. Somebody's been bitten. On Friday two men from Reading were found guilty of, well, how can one put this? How about simply, but among other things - running a home-made fertility service from the basement of a house, facilitating introductions between donors and recipients and sending out sperm by courier at 300 pounds a.... well, not sure whether ‘go' or ‘try' would be appropriate.

The claim by the defendants was that they were not doing what clinics do and therefore did not need a licence. This claim was rejected, and sentencing will take place later this month. You can read more about the case here of course, as we like to keep up with developments, but a few comments cannot be avoided.

If we have spent all that time debating only some of the ethics of IVF and alternatives to pregnancy via sexual intercourse, and have wrestled with consciences about fertility treatment and funding, I am glad that we simply don't stand aside and accept that a commercial enterprise can make money from the desperate women who want to have a child and have medical problems conceiving. In this case, the ‘problems', presumably, were reasonably straightforward (the need for donor sperm which ‘worked') rather than complex medical issues and conception per se. I can only imagine how desperate it can be to want a child and not be able to have one. All treatment costs (somebody) money (whether the recipient pays, or the NHS picks up the bill), but at least having precautionary tests for all parties and securing counselling makes licensed clinics a much safer option. It can only be described as ‘fertility roulette' to make use of unlicensed sources. Donations like this are far from altruistic, unlike the situation that may arise when a friend offers ‘assistance' - not without its problems as a method of conception anyway. Making money by purporting to run a commercial enterprise helping women to conceive but really providing sperm minus the checks and like this is immoral, and dangerous.

I see that the EU is encouraging an increase in maternity benefits... good idea, because we want, as a society, to support families and try to ensure that we give some foundation at the start of a ‘family'. That saves us all some money, and pain in the long run. It has got to be ‘a good thing' - except for just one small consideration. All employers must be aware of non-discrimination law and recruit accordingly to the posts that they have available. It must be a temptation when recruiting, however, to consider how long staff will stay with you, and whether their health is good and domestic background is supportive of the world of employment that presents in your workplace.

There is no doubt that it must be very tempting to employ only those who will not be taking time off work (especially when they have to be paid when doing so). Increases in maternity payments (even if supported by the government) may make employers less likely to take on those they think will take time off, whether through ill-health or pregnancy and childbirth. The possibility that paying more for workers who are likely to have to take time off work for their families might reduce employment prospects for some people from similar situations - particularly women of child-bearing and child-rearing age. That happening will not help anyone. I'm not at all sure we do live in a family-friendly society. Not really.

Finally - I managed to get round the half-marathon in the Great North Run held in Newcastle-Gateshead-South Shields on Sunday 19 September and my time was 3 hours, 29 minutes 11 seconds - not too bad, coming in 38,759th out of 55,000 or so. If you would like to sponsor me, please see click here - it would be appreciated and all the money goes to AgeUK.

Penny sets the questions for Family Law journalCPD, a new way to gain CPD points by answering multiple choice questions based on the content of the journal.

She is an Honorary Research Fellow at Liverpool University Centre for the Study of the Child, the Family and the Law. Click here to follow Penny Booth on Twitter.

The views expressed by contributing authors are not necessarily those of Family Law or Jordan Publishing and should not be considered as legal advice.

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