03 December 2007

21st-Century Family Dilemmas

Five years ago a lesbian couple in a civil partnership persuaded a friend to donate sperm so that they could achieve their ambition of possessing children of their own, without having to pay for the costs of using a licensed clinic. At the time, the friend was not planning to have children and was in a relationship with a woman who had been sterilised, so he agreed. Five years on and he has married someone else but the lesbians have since separated. As a result, despite having no legal rights over the boy and girl conceived (now aged two and four), the man is reportedly being forced by the Child Support Agency to pay thousands of pounds in child maintenance.

Confused? Not half as much as the children are likely to be! Such is the tale of Sharon and Terri Arnold and their friend Andy Bathie, a fireman from Enfield.

The moral of the story, according to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, is that if men donate sperm, they should do so through an HFEA-licensed clinic even though this will prove more costly for the couple hoping to conceive, or else they may find themselves taking on all the responsibilities that comes with parenthood... And to think, until just two years ago, donors were guaranteed the right to remain anonymous throughout the lifetime of any conceived children.

Another moral could be that we ought to give more thought to the long-term and social consequences of our short-term decisions and desires. Before we exercise our "rights", it would behove us to consider from what corresponding duty those rights are derived. For, as Gandhi once noted, "I learned from my illiterate but wise mother that all rights have to be deserved and preserved from duty well done. Thus the very right to live accrues to us only when we do the duty of citizenship to the world. From this one fundamental statement, perhaps it is easy enough to define the duties of Man and Women and correlate every right to some corresponding duty to be first performed. Every other right can be shown to be a usurpation hardly worth fighting for."