More on IVF, genetics, parties and pictures


The IVF debate ain’t going to go away for a long time. Today’s revelations in the Herald that the Government plans to amend the Sex Discrimination Act to give the States open slather to discriminate against de factos as well as single women has given Labor its first chance to get on the front foot. (NEWSFLASH: The Attorney-General has just backed down and will now amend his own bill to protect de facto couples.)

The layers on layers in this debate will produce, I predict:

* Labor proposing legislation to give children conceived through IVF and artificial insemination the right to be told the identity of the father at 18. Tasmanian independent Brian Harradine and Democrats Senator Aden Ridgeway have already publicly supported this idea. The Minister for Health, Michael Wooldridge, also wants this but has been unable to convince the States to do anything. Sooner or later, Howard will be forced, through his own ”rights of the child” rhetoric, to confront this issue.

* The inevitable Senate inquiry into the Coalition’s plan will be passionate, wide ranging and could even come up with sensible policy on this fraught area, instead of Howard’s knee jerk abolition of fundamental human rights. Expected participants include Joe de Bruyn from the shoppies’ union and the Howard-appointed Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Susan Halliday, who’s been left out in the cold by the Government and is so angry at the loss of protection for de factos that she’ll put her good relations with government on the line to fight for women’s rights.

* Attorney-General Daryl Williams has been forced to shift the Government’s rationale for the amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act from seeking to ensure a child has the right to a father, to vacating the field on marital status discrimination when it comes to IVF and artificial insemination. This is intellectually untenable, as Howard has invoked the ”rights” of the child to justify his action, which shows he believes there is a national responsibility in this area. You’d also have to start wondering what other human rights protections in the Sex Discrimination Act the Government thinks should be left to the States. Also, since Howard finds the whole thing so important, why not produce a national policy? It’s sort of like euthanasia when you think about it. Howard on that one said the issue was so fundamental it couldn’t be left to the Northern Territory or the States.

* The Senate inquiry could well be broadened to take on other big genetic issues so far undealt with. It could investigate the thorny issue of genetic testing by insurance companies, employers and banks. It could also take in cloning.

* Howard has opened a Pandora’s box and he can’t close it now. As Aden Ridgeway says, without national legislation, there can be no national data base, and tragic stories of half siblings falling in love without knowing their biological relationship are bound to happen.



Name withheld:

I am a 30-something full-time working mother. I pride myself on being a feminist and my husband and I (yes, he and I are married) try our best to bring our boys up to be feminists as well.

Throughout the entire debate on IVF and the issue of lesbians and single mothers, I have had a few problems with how I felt that the issue is not so black-and-white. All my women and men friends expect me to support the lesbians and boo Howard’s stance on this issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no problems with lesbians bringing up children, be they adopted or children from one or both of them when they were in heterosexual relationships. I have no problems at all with that situation. In fact, some lesbian couples I know would make very good parents.

What I have problems with though is this: If you are a lesbian, why on earth do you want to biologically have your own child? Isn’t your child one of the many consequences, accidental, happy or otherwise, of a heterosexual relationship and if you don’t want such a relationship, then why do you want the consequences?

If you have maternal instincts that you need to satisfy, then foster a child, adopt a child, whatever. Why insist on IVF? To my mind, IVF technology is to treat and address a medical need, not a sexual preference. The ethics have not kept up with the technology but hang on a minute, why on earth do lesbians or for that matter, gay men have to have everything?

If I go into a relationship that would not enable me to conceive and have a child, then I go into it with my eyes wide open; I don’t turn around and expect society to owe me a living and satisfy my maternal instincts regardless of the costs.

I think it is obscene to put lesbian women on the same standing (as it were) as heterosexual couples who medically and health wise have a problem conceiving. [MARGO: Lesbians go into IVF for the same reason – that they have a problem conceiving. Hell, you wouldn’t go through all that pain, with such low odds of success, otherwise.] It is denying the heterosexual couple’s very real problems of conception, de-valuing their trauma of trying to have a child, if you equate their problem to that of a lesbian couple’s.

Am I the only one who thinks like this?

Obviously I haven’t been brave enough to broach this topic amongst our friends for fear of an outcry. What has really niggled me, too, is the way the media and indeed our friends have immediately surmised what our stand on this issue is – oh, they are a left-leaning, well-read, professional couple, surely they must have this view, which is to support the lesbians.

I have no problems with single women having IVF technology, really, I have no problems with heterosexuals having IVF technology, single or married.

I must confess I don’t know what your personal or professional views are on this but if I don’t share this with someone else apart from my husband soon, I am going to scream!

Do raise my concerns in your columns but please do not use my name. I am not sure I am ready to be ”outed” yet!

Jane O’Dwyer:

Suddenly the gains made for women by feminism seem terribly fragile – all thanks to a clever but nasty piece of political skulduggery on Howard’s part.

There is not really an IVF debate happening here – no debate is actually taking place about IVF itself and the vast number of issues that arise out of it. Perhaps that debate does need to take place. This legislation sure as hell ‘ain’t it.

What this is really about is government-sanctioned discrimination against women on the grounds of marital status and sexuality. The right of women to enjoy all the opportunities of life regardless of marital status was hard won (and I know we still haven’t really got there on sexuality).

If a Federal government can legalise discrimination on the basis of ”morality” or State rights, what is next? Does marital status once again become the determining factor for women’s status? It was only 35 years ago that women were tossed out of the workforce when they got married – this sort of discrimination cuts both ways for women. Maybe we haven’t come a long way, baby.

All of which makes the silence of the non-Lyons Forum Liberals and the excessive noise of the SDA Labor Senators look unforgivable. Maybe this will jolt women to protect and build on feminist gains – but do we really need these kind of threats?

How tragic a reflection it will be on our political system if a political stunt is the starting point for unravelling the anti-discrimination act.


David Moore sent in some big picture warnings on genetics from the United States:


Bioethicist Warns of Lack of Preparedness For Genetic Testing in US



By Todd Zwillich

in Washington

A government bioethicist warned a gathering of genetics expertson Thursday that current US laws and regulations will not protect individuals from the possible deeply negative impact of widespread testing for disease susceptibility genes.

Insurance laws, employment regulations and Federal medical testing standards are unable to prevent the ”very real chance” of discrimination against people testing positive for particular genes, a bioethicist with the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, Dr Richard Sharp, said before a group of scientists at the Institute of Medicine.

”We haven’t spent much time talking about testing for susceptibility genes,” he said.

”The problems are going to be colossal.”

After the recent announcement that scientists had sequenced the human genome, President Clinton signed an executive order banning genetic discrimination against Federal employees. But the executive order was ”mostly symbolic”, Dr Sharp said. ”No comprehensive Federal genetic privacy law or antidiscrimination law exists.”

Problems were also likely in the area of workplace safety, he said.

Genetic tests were already available that screened for genes that could cause illness if the person was exposed to certain chemicals, he pointed out.

One example is the CYP2E1 allele, which is known as a marker for leukemia in patients exposed to benzene.

Regulations currently require employers to provide a reasonably safe working environment for employees but no rules lay down who is responsible for the safety of a worker who tests positive for risk associated with chemicals he or she works with.

”Are we going to shift the focus of blame to individuals who have genetic susceptibility or keep it on a dangerous workplace?” Dr Sharp asked.

Congress is currently considering overarching medical records privacy legislation that could apply to genetic testing but the measure has been mired in committees for years. There is still no way to know who will have access to the results of genetic tests.

”When you get tested, somebody knows you’re at risk. How they use the information is going to be the problem,” Dr Sharp said. – Reuters Health



The inaugural media ball in Parliament House last Wednesday night ended up a good humoured affair.

Even the PM was relaxed and led his short speech with ”You all look beautiful”. He ended by saying he felt ”civil to all of you”. Now that’s really something, given the presence of all those nasty leftie journos he so loves to hate.

Here are some photos of the night. I’ve included our photographers, so you know the face behind the people who shoot for the Herald and ”Pot shot”. Most photos were taken by the Minister for Financial Services, Joe Hockey, an ebullient character who, once he got his hands on a Herald camera, took 18 rolls of film for Canberra Inside Out. We’re considering offering him a job.


Roy and HG with PM John Howard and ball organiser and ABC Radio journalist Fran Kelly.

Fairfax photographers, from left, Paul Harris, Gabrielle Charotte and Phil Carrick with SMH Canberra chief of staff and yours truly Margo Kingston.

Roy and HG with Kim Beazley and his wife, Susie.

Leave a Reply