Letter: Our links to the long chain of genetic evolution

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The Independent Online
Sir: The Archbishop of York's reflective article on the morality of using donors (11 January) lacks any real compassion for the childless. To suggest there should be a change in social attitudes by recognising the positive contribution made by the childless to our society is just not realistic. Childless couples seek fertility advice because of the basic instincts centrally reflected in the Christian marriage ceremony.

One respects the Archbishop's personal anti-abortion views, but is he really suggesting an amendment to the Abortion Act to make termination of pregnancy more restrictive, so that more unwanted babies will be available for adoption, thereby eliminating the need to use donors? If so, he has forgotten those terrible days, not long ago, when women died from criminal abortion. In a secular society, basic personal instincts generally override religious convictions.

The Archbishop is right to question what matters most - the womb that bears us, the genes that make us, or the family that brings us up? Therein lies the answer to his concerns and support for his own pro-adoption philosophy, since it is the latter - the creation of a family - that is central to the development of an individual and ultimately to becoming a parent.

The Archbishop's objection to the use of donors stems from his concern for third-party involvement and genetic inheritance. However, our own individual uniqueness arises from the biological fact that a given sperm fertilised a given egg, not that they came from our presumed parents. Had this not occurred, neither he, nor I, would ever exist. Surely the Archbishop does not seriously intend to campaign to amend the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act preventing donor use? If so, this would determine that some unfortunate members of our society would be prevented by law from becoming parents.

To imply that a dead foetus would be the genetic mother of a future child is to distort nomenclature in the extreme. The Oxford Dictionary defines a mother as someone who has given birth to offspring.

We need to consider potential egg donation from foetal ovarian tissue from a totally different standpoint. A woman has a legal right to interrupt pregnancy up to 24 weeks, which, for right or wrong, is now on demand. She also has the right to bury her dead foetus rather than have it discarded by hospital authorities. Perhaps the central question is whether she has the legal right to determine that foetal ovarian tissue is available for use. It is only with that permission that such use should be contemplated.

The present Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act correctly stresses that the rights of the individual/couple should be respected with regard to determining what happens to donor eggs, sperm and even donor embryos for the benefit of other infertile couples. Surely this should also apply to the disposal of foetal material.

Yours faithfully,

IAN CRAFT

Director

London Gynaecology and

Fertility Centre

London, W1

12 January

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