Research: How fertilisation clinics address 'welfare of the child' pre-conception

New research from the University of Kent has revealed the concerns of conception clinic staff involved in welfare of the child (WOC) assessments under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology (HFE) Act.

The Economic and Social Research Council-funded research, which will be presented and discussed at a event on 10 September, investigated how assisted conception clinics now go about assessing the 'welfare of the ' pre-conception, clinic staffs views of the current law and Code of Practice guidance from the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA), and their opinions on the general enterprise of welfare assessments. Among those interviewed were clinicians, clinic counsellors and nursing staff.

Since 1990, infertility services have been subject to a highly complex system of regulation: the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990) and accompanying Code of Practice issued by the HFEA. Controversially, in 2008, the legal requirement in place since 1990 that clinicians providing treatment take account of 'the welfare of any child who may be born as a result of the treatment' including 'the need of a father' was replaced with a new mandate: they must henceforth consider the child's need for 'supportive parenting'. In the light of this reform, Kent's research aimed to investigate the ongoing role played by the assessment in practice and the impact of this change to the regulations.

Among its key findings, the research has revealed that: the HFEA's new '' process is generally perceived by staff to be an improvement on previous procedures, although despite the time spent discussing the welfare of the child (WOC) clause during the reform process, the new law appears to have had a relatively limited impact on clinics' previous practice; while the number of prospective patients deemed to raise 'welfare of the child concerns' remains small, with very few subject to further investigation and even fewer denied treatment, many clinic staff experience difficulties working out how to resolve the small number of 'difficult cases' they experience; staff also reported variations in, and some concerns about, the role and place of counsellors and counselling in WOC assessments.

Other key findings include: a bifurcation in attitudes towards lesbian and single female patients, with lesbian couples often represented as 'ideal patients', while concerns were expressed about single women's motivations for having a child, their ability materially to support a child and the strength of their support networks of family and friends; the patient group most frequently discussed as requiring different treatment was donor gamete recipients (the view seemed to prevail that the law requires these patients to be treated differently); and a view that the vast majority of patients are 'normal' co-exists with a sense that 'you can never know' or 'you can never prove it'.

Principal investigator Dr Ellie Lee, Reader at Kent's School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research (SSPSSR) and Director of the Centre for Parenting Culture Studies, said: 'Our research, which ran alongside a detailed consideration of the findings of prior research on this topic and analysis of the relevant Parliamentary debates, revisions to the Code of Practice and statements from the HFEA regarding the reform process 2005-2011, has provided a fascinating case study in the translation of law on the books into law in practice. It has shown that the 'welfare of the child' remains a slippery concept. As has always been the case, no one is really clear about what it means to assess 'child welfare' before a pregnancy is even conceived. What we can be certain about is that its association with the 'traditional family' has weakened. Yet it seems misplaced to believe this means prospective parents have been freed from oversight regarding their plans for their family. Rather the notion that it is necessary and important to assess 'child welfare' is generally endorsed, on oftentimes ambiguous grounds.'

Copies of Assessing Child under the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act: the New Law are available at http://blogs.kent.ac.uk/parentingculturestudies/research-themes/pregnancy/wo/

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Study throws spotlight on lesbian parenting

Aug 19, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Lesbians who turn to sperm donors to conceive are finding it easier to do so, but only if they have the money to pay for it, according to a new study.

Effects of welfare reform are mixed for the poor

Jun 09, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- The economic status of children of single mothers who have gone off welfare and found jobs has improved slightly, but many poor families are worse off since the 1996 welfare reform, reports a study.

Recommended for you

What are the chances that your dad isn't your dad?

Apr 16, 2014

How confident are you that the man you call dad is really your biological father? If you believe some of the most commonly-quoted figures, you could be forgiven for not being very confident at all. But how ...

New technology that is revealing the science of chewing

Apr 15, 2014

CSIRO's 3D mastication modelling, demonstrated for the first time in Melbourne today, is starting to provide researchers with new understanding of how to reduce salt, sugar and fat in food products, as well ...

After skin cancer, removable model replaces real ear

Apr 11, 2014

(HealthDay)—During his 10-year struggle with basal cell carcinoma, Henry Fiorentini emerged minus his right ear, and minus the hearing that goes with it. The good news: Today, the 56-year-old IT programmer ...

Italy scraps ban on donor-assisted reproduction

Apr 09, 2014

Italy's Constitutional Court on Wednesday struck down a Catholic Church-backed ban against assisted reproduction with sperm or egg donors that has forced thousands of sterile couples to seek help abroad.

User comments