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Why Birth Certificates Need to Adapt Due to Rise in Assisted Conceptions

Many newspapers this morning featured the successful legal battle of 26 year-old Emma Cresswell, to have her birth certificate amended after discovering that she had been conceived from donor sperm.

This case marks a further example of the legal, practical and emotional complexities of assisted conception techniques and how they often do not fit into the administrative and legal models built around traditional families.
It's reported that Emma was born a triplet, after her mother and father figure were unable to conceive naturally and turned to IVF. As is common, the commissioning father, (the man whom it was intended would raise Emma) was named as her father on her birth certificate. Emma was not informed about her biological heritage during her childhood and according to news articles, only discovered that the man she had understood to be her father was not biologically linked to her during a family argument, when the truth was let slip.

After a lengthy legal battle, she was finally granted permission to have her birth certificate amended to remove the reference to the man she had previously thought to be her father.
As part of the on-going review of changes needed in the law to adapt to families assisted by scientific techniques, there have been some calls for birth certificates to feature more detail, including, where different, details of both biological and legal parents. Part of the rationale is so that children conceived through such techniques know from an early age their biological heritage. This of course has certain advantages, but could also cause serious problems for couples in religious or cultural groups where the use of such techniques is forbidden and can have serious life-long ramifications for the child involved.

This case also again raises the definition of parenthood, and what a birth certificate should reflect, with some feeling that the biological link can never been diminished, and others feeling that regardless of biology, it is the person who raises the child as their own who is rightly considered the parent.
It's clear that there is no obvious or straight forward solution, but equally clear that existing practice does not always work. As the number of children born using techniques such as gamete donation and surrogacy increase, it's becoming a more pressing issue and one which many family Solicitors hope can be addressed.
Cara Nuttall is a Family Law Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in Manchester.

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