Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill

Part of Orders of the Day – in the House of Commons at 7:27 pm on 12th May 2008.

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Photo of Iris Robinson Iris Robinson DUP, Strangford 7:27 pm, 12th May 2008

I make no apology for speaking as a born-again Christian. I represent the voice of those who look to a higher authority—one to whom we will all one day answer for the decisions that we make in the House. Each one of us is an individual of amazing worth. I approach the Bill through the central fact that we are all created in the image of God. Much science will be discussed and debated, but I want to remind us all that we need to consider the case fully—both biologically, through the logical argument of our God-given minds, and with respect to the mind of God.

We are told in the book of Genesis that we are created

"in the image of God".

Mankind is not made in any one person's image, but in the image of God—the height of holiness and purity—and that gives man a sacred standing. It makes man fundamentally different from the rest of creation, including animals. We are not just another animal. We are created special, and that fact must be treated with respect. That tenet is central to human identity. The creation of hybrid embryos undermines our dignity and is fundamentally disrespectful of the boundaries of nature. It would tarnish the "image of God" present in all of us, would breach the biblical prohibition of the mixing of kinds, would confuse lineage, would fundamentally affect all human relationships, especially marriage and the family, and would cross an ethical line by creating something essentially new but unnecessary.

Indeed, 1 Corinthians 15 provides us with a clear statement of the difference between humans and animals in God's order. Verse 39 reads:

"All flesh is not the same: Men have one kind of flesh, animals have another, birds another and fish another."

I stand by that.

To date, human embryonic stem cell research has absorbed a huge amount of taxpayers' money but delivered no therapies, whereas adult stem cell research, which involves no ethical hazards, has delivered around 80 therapies for patients, and some 350 clinical trials are currently under way. That is a fact, and if we had to wait 20 years before we were deemed to be elected, we would be waiting a very long time. I say that in answer to Dr. Iddon.

In Northern Ireland and many parts of the UK we are facing an epidemic of suicide and self-harm in young men. I have spoken to experts in mental health who work with such individuals. They point to the fact that many of these men were unfathered. The Bill puts us in the unacceptable position of creating more unfathered children.

Clause 14(2)(b) proposes replacing the current obligation for IVF clinics to consider the child's need for "a father" with an obligation to consider the child's need for "supportive parenting". The current provision relating to fathers is not absolute. It does not stop lesbian or single heterosexual women receiving IVF treatment, but it does mean that clinics should ask questions about the provision of alternative father figures, and it sends out an important signal about the crucial role played by fathers.

Clause 45 makes provision for the creation of children who will have no chance of ever having a father. The clause sets out that when the would-be parents are two women, from before the child is born

"no man is to be treated as the father of the child."

This is very different from gay adoption, because when a child is conceived who is later adopted by a gay couple, the child at least has the chance of having a father, and may indeed have him as a father for a period. The nearest a child processed by clause 45 can get to having a father will be when they cease to be a child at 18 and acquire the right to apply to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to find out the identity of their genetic father.

The abolition of the need for a father flies in the face of a society that invests its efforts in creating legislation against absent fathers. Why now give fathers the message that they are not needed? Children flourish when nurtured in a family with two parents of the opposite sex who work together and complement each other. That is God's design and intention. We see from research that the pattern that God has laid down for fatherhood is necessary, because the lack of a father figure has a high cost indeed.

Children in father-absent homes are five times more likely to be poor. In 2002, 7.8 per cent. of children in married couple families were living in poverty, compared with 38.4 per cent. of children in female-householder families. Even after adjusting for income, youths in father-absent households still had significantly higher odds of incarceration than those in mother-father families. Youths who never had a father in the household experienced the highest odds.

Without a highly involved father, youths are more at risk of substance abuse. Each unit increase in father involvement is associated with a 1 per cent. reduction in substance use. Living in an intact family also decreases the risk of first substance use. Being raised by a single mother raises the risk of teen pregnancy. An analysis of child abuse cases in a US representative sample of 42 counties found that children from single- parent families are more likely to be victims of physical and sexual abuse than children who live with both biological parents.

Compared with their peers living with both parents, children in single parent homes had a 77 per cent. greater risk of being physically abused, an 87 per cent. greater risk of being harmed by physical neglect, a 165 per cent. greater risk of experiencing notable physical neglect, a 74 per cent. greater risk of suffering from emotional neglect, an 80 per cent. greater risk of suffering serious injury as a result of abuse, and overall, a 120 per cent. greater risk of being endangered by some type of child abuse. It is also the case, unfortunately, that fatherless children are twice as likely to drop out of school.

None of these statistics are intended as criticism, and they should not detract from the fantastic commitment shown by many single parents to giving their children the best chance in life. However, we should not run away from the facts.

Too often the House and this country have suffered from woolly liberal thinking. Unless we stand firm on certain matters, the United Kingdom will become utterly morally bankrupt. As Members of the House, we should not be engaged in bringing society to its lowest common denominator. Instead, we should seek to raise standards across society.

Let us look at some of the decisions made in the House. We have introduced the morning-after pill, yet we have the highest rate of teenage pregnancies in the whole of the European Union, with no parental input for young teenage children seeking abortion and high rates of sexually transmitted infections, all because of liberalising the laws to meet that lowest common denominator.

The House should not attempt to railroad through legislative change on moral affairs for Northern Ireland, contrary to the wishes of all the major parties there. I have a letter that has gone to all hon. Members from all four leaders of the four main parties, asking us not to impose on the people of Northern Ireland the Abortion Act 1967. Human beings are different from mere human tissue, and require separate principles and practice for regulation. Human beings need fathers: God ordains it and science declares the wisdom of his ordinance.

If we are fighting for the lives of our sons and daughters in the struggle against suicide, how can we allow such an invidious Bill to pass? It attacks the very fabric of personhood and we must resist it vigorously. We must remember that we are created in the image of God and that we are told that humans and animals are fundamentally different. We must not only protect the fatherless; we must avoid creating the environment in which those circumstances are fashioned. All life is of immense worth and we must treat it with the utmost respect. That is why my party will not support the Bill in its present state.

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