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Both social and a democrat - Chris Fearne

The amendments to our IVF legislation have now passed into law. Piloting them through Parliament and securing a balanced judgement on it in the court of public and NGO opinion was not an easy task. We encountered substantial opposition to certain aspects of it up until the vote itself, and I would anticipate that some will continue to oppose it.

While we engaged with and listened to the opposition to this Bill, our determination to reach the key goals we set out at the start remained strong. We live in a thriving democracy. Contrary to what some might think, opposition to government measures is living proof of this, not the opposite.

As a European social democrat, I am proud that half of what defines my principles and political beliefs is indeed the promotion of democracy in economic, social and political life.

I am proud of another feature of the way we acquitted ourselves in the IVF debate which stood out as a shining testimony of our democratic credentials. Debate and disagreement are worthless if they do not serve to change minds, opinions and positions. Otherwise, it would be a democracy which exists only on very flimsy paper.

Sure enough, with valid input both from the Opposition and representatives of civil society we tweaked our amendments.

We did so because they improved our original proposals, and ultimately that is the bottom line of legislation which is so particularly delicate as this one. 

Power goes to those who strive to be right, and that includes changing one’s position to be so. The moment that we start thinking that power itself makes us right, would be the beginning of the end.

The second half of my ideological composition as a social democrat is that I always place what’s best for the ‘social’ at the forefront. Irresistible forces like, for instance, globalisation and technology are radically changing the way we live.

Yet as social democrats, our eye always remains on the social ball. For us, it is the point of departure and arrival of political action. And that is exactly what we have been doing throughout our journey to make these amendments to IVF legislation.

Now that these amendments have become law, and just before the citizens of this country will start to make use of them, this is the time to go back to basics.

Sexual orientation, marital status and the choice to remain single will no longer disqualify men and women from being parents

Why is it that these amendments were necessary in the first place?

We’ve had months of debate on the nitty gritty. Now is the time to step back and appreciate the big picture again.

Through it all we were driven by a single, all-encompassing purpose – to give couples and individuals who want to have children all the support and back-up necessary to make their dream come true.

That, in a nutshell, is what it’s all about. The rest just follows logically.

For starters, we wanted everyone’s desire and right to be a parent to be treated equally, to be rendered free from discrimination. Sexual orientation, marital status and the choice to remain single will no longer disqualify men and women from being parents. Because wanting to be a parent is fundamental to being human.

The joy of parenthood should know no rationing. As social democrats we could no longer stand by and allow this travesty of the ‘social’ to go on.

We also wanted to reduce as much as possible the impact of the ordeal of the former IVF regime on parents-in-waiting.

As a medical consultant, perhaps I know a bit more than most what an excruciatingly difficult time couples with infertility problems go through in their quest to hold a child in their arms – the physical pain, the emotional pain and, the worst pain of all, that of disappointment.

Finally, we wanted to replace prejudice with science and put it at the service of the human need to have a family. We chose to allow our medical specialists to get on with their job and serve their patients in the best way possible, as they have always done.

Just as we removed the State from the bedroom in passing divorce legislation, we are now stopping it from barging – uninvited – into the medical consultant’s office.

This has not been an easy journey for this government, this party or myself.

But there is one thing that continued to drive us forward. We took each step with a deep sense of goodwill. Whether it was in the drafting of the original amendments themselves or in our open disposition to accept changes to them. We don’t call ourselves social democrats for nothing.

Chris Fearne is Deputy Prime Minister.

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