VICTORIA WHITE: A person’s knowledge of their genetic identity is a human right

It’s an insult to give children a birth certificate which records two parents who can’t have physically engendered them, writes Victoria White

WHEN I did an internet search for the Government’s move to draft laws to retrospectively register same sex couples as parents on birth certificates I found Leo Varadkar’s “dark chapter” in the country’s history; the registering of adoptive couples as biological parents on the birth certificates of children adopted from St Patrick’s Guild.

Imagine falsifying a birth certificate — those nuns, they would stop at nothing, it seems, to expunge from the record of children the “shameful” names of their real parents in favour of parents of which they approved.

Thank goodness we’re in a bright, new era of Irish history, with a bright, new Taoiseach who is even gay. Who understands our need to put on the birth certificate of a child born to “commissioning parents” the names of those parents, expunging forever the “shameful” names of the poor eejits who donated to the child their
entire genetic identity.

It’s a brave, new world, as the Bard would put it. Let’s not ponder at all the dilemma of children who have on their birth certificates the names of two people who can’t physically make a child together.

They are the “commissioning” parents. They want to be the child’s parents. Their wish now comes true and is recorded as fact on the birth certificate, although in the case of at least one of the parents, the certificate records a fiction.

This is not far from what the nuns at St Patrick’s Guild are accused of doing. What we are proposing, in producing legislation to fully enact the Children and Family Relationships Act 2015, is to rewrite genetic history according to our inclinations and today’s moral climate.

I have no problem with the moral climate.

I don’t give two hoots who parents a kid as long as it’s done well, and I don’t give one hoot who those parents love or don’t love. I give a volley of hoots, however, about the attempted rewriting of genetic history according to the mood of the times.

It’s an insult to give children a birth certificate which records two parents who can’t have physically engendered them. The proposal shows we have barely turned a page in our understanding of children’s needs since the so-called “dark chapters” of the past.

A person’s knowledge of their genetic identity is a human right

You will shout that today’s law is different because it bans anonymous donation and gives to a child born from a sperm or egg or embryo donor the right to know his or her genetic identity, unless the donor parent persuades the relevant minister that it could pose a risk to his or her “safety” or the “safety” of the child.

I don’t think there should be any reason to deny this knowledge to the child in question. Just like I don’t think the “privacy” of the genetic parents of adoptees should be protected by the State in the Adoption (information and tracing) bill which we are promised will soon be before the Dáil.

A person’s knowledge of his or her genetic identity is a basic human right for physical and psychological reasons so profound we have no words to express them. I can’t believe the UN has failed to censure countries like ours in which the right to know the identity of your birth parents at age 18 is not yet law.

A person’s genetic identity should be expressed on his or her birth certificate and that birth certificate should belong to that person on application, from the age of 18 if not before. That birth certificate should not belong to the State but to the person named. It makes me want to smash windows and grab files and computer hard drives when I think of adoptees who still don’t have their own birth certificates.

I experienced a very distant echo of what it would be like to be denied your full genetic records this year when my husband presented me with an genetic spit test for Christmas.

A second cousin at some stage of removal happened to do the test at the same time and we emailed each other in total astonishment as he named the names of English ancestors of mine which for me were almost mythical.

He was busy doing his family tree and I told him there was a rumour my Granny’s so-called elder sister was in fact her mother. He was sceptical until he found the birth certificate.

A person’s knowledge of their genetic identity is a human right

So there it was, duly inscribed by a registrar: Pollie Tyler was the child of Caroline Tyler and her father was an X. Her true date of birth, celebrated on the wrong date her entire life as a result, presumably, of the family’s bid to hide Carrie’s pregnancy, was in fact the same as my own.

I’d like to know who that X was but at least one genetic parent’s name was recorded. Under the proposed law the birth certificate of a child born by assisted human reproduction (AHR) would register the name of a person not genetically connected to the child as a parent and would not say if neither was the genetic parent.

Carrie’s parents did the right thing in keeping Polllie and the registrar did the right thing in not recording them as Pollie’s parents. Who engenders you and who brings you up need not be the same people and a way must be found of recording “commissioning” parents on a child’s passport while the birth certificate carries the names of genetic parents.

We are writing law to suit the perceived needs of infertile couples rather than the needs of the children conceived. Our stance on AHR in the Children and Family Relationships Act has its roots in the Commission on Assisted Human Reproduction (2005) which saw infertility as “a dysfunction of an individual’s body” and saw AHR as a means to “alleviate the condition.”

It’s most astonishing finding, for me, was that being a surrogate mother was “ethically indistinguishable” from other uses of the female body such as being a model.

Infertility occurs in about one in six couples and should be seen as a normal variation in the human family. By obfuscating genetic identity we are making infertility shameful, as we once made “illegitimacy” shameful.

Ironically, the Commission on AHR even distinguishes this route to parenthood from adoption as “there is frequently a deep and unspoken wish to continue a genetic link through a new generation”. It then goes on to discuss babies born as a result of AHR who carry half or none of the genes of the genetic parents.

There is nothing shameful in raising a kid to whom you are not genetically connected. In fact I think it’s the most generous form of parenting.

I just wish we could honour that generosity instead of trying to cover it up. And I wish we could stop using our children’s birth certificates as blank pages on which to write the stories we want to hear.


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