"Knowledge is bliss"- Towards a society without paternity surprises
by Barry Pearson
[ Previous page | Title page | Next page ]

Appendix A: “A right to parentage knowledge”

Why a right?

The claim of this paper isn't just that paternity surprises can't be hidden in practice. That message might lead to confusion and resentment that not enough were being done to keep them hidden.

The main assertion here is that people have, or should have, the right to know about their biological relationships. For once, the new technologies happen to support the right. (Appendix D discusses the ethics of such personal knowledge).

A right for adults

If we were writing a treaty or convention on this topic, what would we say? Let's examine other conventions, and build on those.

The European "Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine" (not ratified by the UK) reads:

  Chapter III – Private life and right to information
  Article 10 – Private life and right to information
    1. Everyone has the right to respect for private life in relation to information about his or her health.
    2. Everyone is entitled to know any information collected about his or her health. However, the wishes of individuals not to be so informed shall be observed.
    3. In exceptional cases, restrictions may be placed by law on the exercise of the rights contained in paragraph 2 in the interests of the patient.

A suggestion for a “right to parentage knowledge” is based on the above convention:

  Article X – Private life and right to information
    1. Everyone has the right to respect for private life in relation to information about his or her biological relationships.
    2. Everyone is entitled to know any information possible about his or her biological relationships. However, the wishes of individuals not to be so informed shall be observed.
    3. In exceptional cases, restrictions may be placed by law on the exercise of the rights contained in paragraph 2 in the interests of the person concerned.

A right for children

It is possible that additional rights for the child are unnecessary. Here are extracts from the United Nations "Convention on the Rights of the Child" (my emphasis):

  Article 7
    1. The child shall be registered immediately after birth and shall have the right from birth to a name, the right to acquire a nationality and, as far as possible, the right to know and be cared for by his or her parents.
  Article 8
    1. States Parties undertake to respect the right of the child to preserve his or her identity, including nationality, name and family relations as recognized by law without unlawful interference.
  Article 9
    3. States Parties shall respect the right of the child who is separated from one or both parents to maintain personal relations and direct contact with both parents on a regular basis, except if it is contrary to the child's best interests.
  Article 18
    1. States Parties shall use their best efforts to ensure recognition of the principle that both parents have common responsibilities for the upbringing and development of the child. Parents or, as the case may be, legal guardians, have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child. The best interests of the child will be their basic concern.

In the UK, "parent" increasingly means the biological parent, and the above convention should be read in this way except for obvious exceptions. The UK has ratified this convention. Nearly all nations (although not the USA) have ratified it.

Human Rights Act 1998

The necessary rights may already be covered by interpretation by the European Court of Human Rights of Article 8 of European Convention on Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, hence Article 8 of the Human Rights Act 1998.

For example, the judgement in Mikulic v. Croatia, 17th January 2002, stated: "Private life, in the Court's view, includes a person's physical and psychological integrity and can sometimes embrace aspects of an individual's physical and social identity. Respect for "private life" must also comprise to a certain degree the right to establish relationships with other human beings ... In the Court's opinion, persons in the applicant's situation have a vital interest, protected by the Convention, in receiving the information necessary to uncover the truth about an important aspect of their personal identity". (The applicant was born in 1996).

[ Previous page | Title page | Next page ]
Page last updated: 13 December, 2003 © Copyright Barry Pearson 2002