Shatter’s Brave New World attacks children’s rights

The Government is trying to set aside nature and replace it with choice says David Quinn

When a woman becomes pregnant and delivers her baby she is then a parent. That goes without saying. Nature has made her a parent. It has also made the father of the child a parent. They may not have intended to have a baby, but they are parents now regardless of their intention. They are the parents of the child.

None of this should need to be said. It is blindingly obvious.

However, Justice Minister Alan Shatter seems to have a very different view. This is absolutely clear from his new family law reform proposal which would have to try very hard to be more radical than it is.

To be more precise, he has published the general outline (150 pages in all) of what will become the Children and Family Relationships Bill. To cut a long story short, the proposal is riddled from top to bottom with the ideology of choice. In it, nature takes a very distant backseat to intention, which is to say, choice.

In Shatter’s world nature doesn’t make you a parent, intention does. Please read that sentence again. It is crucial to understanding what he is trying to do. I’ll repeat: in Shatter’s worldintention, not nature is what really makes you a parent.

Therefore, if you give birth to a child but do not intend to be a mother to that child, you are not the parent regardless of what nature says.

Likewise, if you do not intend to be the father of that child, even though your sperm fertilised the egg which obviously makes you the natural father of the child, you are not the father of that child either.

The world of Assisted Human Reproduction (AHR) has helped to give rise to this proposed law.

AHR allows children to be conceived and gestated via a bewildering cast of people. A child might be gestated in one woman’s womb (the so-called ‘surrogate mother’), using the egg of another woman (the genetic mother or egg donor) combined with the sperm of a possibly anonymous, unnamed man (the sperm donor).

That child upon birth might then be handed over to completely separate people (the ‘social’ or ‘intending’ parents) who are in no way, shape or form the natural parents of that child. But in Shatter’s world, because they intend to be the parents they are the parents, regardless of what nature has to say.

I say ‘parents’, but it could just as easily be one parent. Alan Shatter doesn’t seem to mind. You might have one intentional parent of either sex, a man or a woman, who will raise the child alone.

If more than one, the intentional parents might also be a man and a woman, or a man and a man, or a woman and a woman. Again, Alan Shatter seems indifferent. It’s all about the choices of the adults, you see.

One woman chooses to let her womb be used by to someone else so they can have a baby. A growing number of Indian women make their living by ‘renting out’ their wombs to Westerners.

Another woman chooses to sell her eggs. A man chooses to sell his sperm. Any given combination of adults choose to be the people who will raise the child together or alone.

The big thing for Alan Shatter is that their choices be facilitated. Alan Shatter says these things are happening anyway so the law might as well recognise it all.

But does the law really have to recognise any given practice? Of course not. Instead it must look at what is ethical.

Alan Shatter is justifying all this by making reference to the ‘best interests’ of the child. However, his view of the ‘best interests’ of the child has little or no place for the natural ties or for motherhood and fatherhood which is a deeply flawed way of looking at the matter to put it very, very mildly.

Alan Shatter may think intent, not nature is what really makes you a parent, but what is the view of the children themselves?

We know from adoption that no matter how well children are loved by their adoptive parents, they will frequently go looking for their natural parents anyway.

But there is a very big difference between adoption and what Alan Shatter is looking to authorise.

In the case of adoption the adoptive parents can tell the child that the natural tie was broken before they ever arrived on the scene, that is, that they did not break the tie.

In the case of children produced via egg donors and sperm donors and surrogate mothers, what will be ‘intending’ or ‘social’ parents say?

They will tell the child that they love it very much but they will also have to tell the child that they deliberately broke the tie to at least one natural parent and they did planned to do this all along, from even before the child was conceived let alone born.

In addition, if they are raising the child without a mother or a father as the case may be, they will have to justify deliberately depriving the child of either a mother’s love or a father’s love. (It is quite another thing when circumstance as distinct from choice does this).

So there is a gigantic spanner in Alan Shatter’s Brave New World of intentional parents where the natural ties don’t matter and motherhood and fatherhood are optional extras, namely the feelings and rights of children.

It is commonplace for children to yearn for a mother and a father and it is commonplace for them to want to know where they come from, that is to know and have contact with their natural families.

Already thousands of people all over the world who were conceived via sperm donation or egg donation are seeking out their natural parents.

What will Alan Shatter say to these people’s Irish equivalents when they are grown up and asking how he, and all the other politicians who support this proposal, could ever have justified pretending that the natural ties don’t matter and that having a mother and a father who love you has no special value?

In the final analysis the Shatter Bill is a terrible, far-reaching and fundamental attack on the rights of children.