Assisted deception

right of individuals to find out about their origins is one that has only begun
to establish itself slowly. The legal right of adopted people to trace their
birth relatives has existed since 1975, but other groups, such as those who
have been in local authority care, have no parallel right in law to find out
about their pasts.

group on whom the spotlight has recent fallen comprises children born through
donor-assisted conception, for whom there is actually a legal prohibition on
access to information about their origins. Speakers at a conference on donor
conception in London last week argued that children conceived by this method
should be told as early as possible about their origins and, specifically, the
identity of the sperm donor concerned. Even Baroness Warnock, whose 1984 report
led to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act 1990 which protects the
anonymity of sperm donors, admitted that she had changed her mind.

Warnock’s claim that the climate has changed considerably since the mid-1980s
is undoubtedly correct. Children are no longer seen as the possessions of their
parents, their welfare is paramount under the Children Act 1989, and much more
is understood about our genetic inheritance than was the case 20 years ago. Yet
the law, in the form of the 1990 act, encourages parents to deceive their
children. As Lady Warnock herself says, this is surely a moral wrong.

are already indications that elements of the 1990 Act may contravene the Human
Rights Act 1998, particularly the latter’s provisions on the right to privacy
and the right to family life. The European Court recently ruled, for example,
that an eight-year-old girl should be able to establish her paternity on the
grounds that this was directly linked to her private life. Sperm donors were
protected in the first place because it was feared that their numbers would
fall if the veil of anonymity were lifted, but, even here, the evidence from
abroad is that this need not happen.

we should not be complacent about the consequences of lifting the veil, nor
rely too heavily on what has already happened in the analogous case of
adoption. Tracing one’s birth parents is one thing; tracing a sperm donor,
whose attitude to the child whom he gave the chance of life may well be of an
entirely different character, is quite another.

Striking facts

of social care workers took to the streets of London last week to demand an
increase in their London weighting payment.

Their union Unison was calling for a flat
rate of £4,000 to apply to all local government workers in both inner and outer
London. It is a reasonable demand. It is unfair that social care staff receive
almost £1,500 a year less than senior nurses and £2,000 less than police
officers in inner London.

However, the issue is whether local
authorities can afford the increased wage bill. The Association of London
Government puts the cost at £250m and says the money could only be found by
cutting services, or jobs, or from increases in council tax.

There must be sympathy for London local
authorities which are already bearing the brunt of the ever-worsening social
care recruitment crisis. The wide-scale backing for the day of action is a
warning that more members of their workforce may be considering leaving unless
an agreement over the London weighting issue is found. Without an agreement we
could see a haemorrhaging of the capital’s already depleted social care

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