Two legal mothers but no legal father – all with the blessing of the State

Breda O’Brien, The View

In April 2012, the Animal Health and Welfare Bill was introduced in the Seanad. It had 78 sections. It was not enacted until May 2013 because every line was pored over, so that there would not be any unforeseen consequences.

Contrast that with the Children and Family Relationships Bill, which is possibly the most complex and far-reaching piece of family law ever to be enacted in this country, and which has 172 sections.

The Government proposes having it enacted before the referendum on same-sex marriage, currently set for May 22.

How can this be justified? In fact, this bill should be two separate bills, one dealing with assisted human reproduction (AHR) and the other dealing with guardianship, access and custody rights. The latter provisions are much less problematic.

There is also another surrogacy bill in the offing, under the auspices of health minister, Leo Varadkar. It defies logic that it is being dealt with separately from the major bill on AHR.

The desperate haste to push this bill through means that a proper debate, both in the Oireachtas and society, simply will not happen.

In relation to AHR, this bill proposes that children in the near future could have, with the blessing of the State, two legal mothers but no legal father. In other words, there will be two mothers on the birth certificate. The concept of natural parent will be eradicated, reduced to a ‘donor’.

At the moment, parentage can be transferred in some circumstances, most notably, adoption. However, before a child can be adopted, there is a rigorous process. The couple or person intending to adopt have to show that they are stable, and capable not only of caring for a child, but with dealing with probable identity difficulties, and even grief for the birth parents who had to give up the child.

There is a ‘cooling off’ period for the birth mother, who can withdraw her consent to the adoption until that period is over.

This bill, in contrast, proposes no such safeguards. The egg or sperm donor signs away rights before donation, and cannot retract that consent once the gametes have been used to procure a pregnancy.

Given that the lower age limit for sperm donation is 18, how could a person be considered to be giving informed consent? How can a person predict how they will react to the fact that they have multiple offspring, after donating perhaps in quite a flippant manner to make drinking money?

The bill’s wording is stark. Take Section 5: “a donor of a gamete that is used in a DAHR (donor assisted human reproduction) procedure (a) is not the parent of a child born as a result of that procedure, and (b) has no parental rights or duties in respect of the child.”

This bill is like a primitive type of magic spell. If the State says that you are not a parent, you are not. Yet every person ever born, save the Lord Jesus Christ, was born of a union between a man and a woman.

The resulting child becomes part of a complex genetic and social web, with access to knowledge of ancestors and relatives, and echoes of him or herself in aunts, cousins, grandparents.


There are so many people conceived through donor sperm, the oldest form of AHR, who have suffered immense confusion and grief. Joanna Rose is an articulate advocates for people conceived through donor insemination, as she herself was conceived this way.

She has no certain knowledge of her biological father, except that he may have been responsible for about 200-300 children. He was, she thinks, one of a group of medical students who donated as often as possible for money.

She talks movingly of the difficulties that ensue for donor conceived people, such as having numerous siblings in different families, not knowing who your genetic father is, and worrying about whether you will or won’t ever meet them. Or indeed, accidentally dating or marry a sibling.

She launched a test case which meant Britain had to change its laws on donor anonymity, so that it is banned, just as our new bill bans it, but Dr Rose says this is only the bare minimum. She believes that the practice of egg and sperm donation itself should be banned.

To my knowledge, Minister Fitzgerald has never met with Dr Rose, and I believe no law should be enacted before every TD and senator has heard the powerful arguments against deliberately bringing a child into the world, while planning to cut off access to one half of the child’s identity until 18, and then only allow access to a pale shadow of what should have been.

Given that most TDs will never even read this complex bill, it is the least that they could do.