By JULIE WHELDON, Science Correspondent
Last updated at 23:20pm on 10th December 2006
More single women and lesbians could get IVF under Government plans to scrap the requirement for doctors to consider a child's 'need for a father'.
Currently doctors can only give fertility treatment if they believe their patient has taken into account a child's need for a father-figure.
But now it has emerged that ministers are likely to drop this in a shake-up of Britain's embryology laws expected to be announced this week.
They fear making clinics consider a child's 'need for a father' could open them up to accusations of unfair discrimination.
Ethical campaigners reacted angrily to the move warning it amounted to 'gender correctness at its most ridiculous.'
The 1990 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act sets out current rules on research and treatment using human embryos.
Ministers want to reform the act to bring it up-to-date with scientific advances that have occurred over the past 16 years.
A white paper is expected to be published on Friday setting out the Government's proposals ahead of a new Bill next year.
Yesterday it emerged that, as well as dropping the 'need for a father' part of the old Act, ministers are set to back embryo screening to weed out genetic defects - or to create a 'savour sibling' for a sick child.
However families would not be able to choose the sex of their baby for non-medical reasons.
Leaks suggest it will probably also bring controversial internet sperm suppliers under regulation for the first time.
The White Paper is likely to also give backing to scientists who want to controversially create 'chimera' embryos combining human DNA with animal eggs for research.
Such work has already sparked outrage from ethical campaigners who warned it was 'abhorrent' and undermined human dignity.
The Government is also expected to say donor fathers could be told 'in some circumstances' when offspring take up a right to access some information about them.
They could also be able to access 'limited non-identifying information' about the children, who, from the age of 18, might be able to discover if they have siblings born from the same man's sperm.
In addition, the time limit on the storage of embryos - with the consent of both parents - could be doubled to 10 years with a one-year cooling off period if either withdrew their permission.
Some clinics will currently provide IVF to single women and lesbians as long as they are happy the women have considered the child's need to have a male role model in its life.
However many others refuse to treat women who have no male partner because of the child's 'need for a father.'
The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) has warned in the past that this may conflict with human rights legislation by amounting to discrimination against single and lesbian women.
Over the summer public health minister Caroline Flint told MPs that ministers were keen to retain a duty on doctors to consider a child's welfare.
"But we are thinking that there is probably less of a case for retaining the law in terms of a reference to a father," said Flint.
Robert Whelan, deputy director of Civitas think tank, yesterday warned this was 'grossly irresponsible.'
"The people who engage in this sort of activity see children as an accessory and something they can have as a right.
"The fact that the child will suffer is a secondary consideration." Josephine Quintavalle of Comment on Reproductive Ethics said: "The current act merely says that the need for a father should be taken into account. "To eliminate even this token gesture toward the role of the father is an example of gender correctness at its most ridiculous and discriminates against men."