Research Puts Fatherhood Under Scrutiny

Researchers at the University of Birmingham are looking to uncover what men think the rights and responsibilities of fathers really are, and how these rights and responsibilities might be generated.

As a result, the team, from the University’s Centre for Biomedical Ethics, is now looking for men who have been sperm donors, men who have experienced a pregnancy that was unwanted by either themselves or their partner, and men whose partners have had embryos frozen during IVF treatment to become part of this major research project into what it means to be a father.

The team has been interviewing men with a range of experiences of fatherhood for the last year. The interviews have included groups of men who are separated from their children, teenagers, and men who live with their children.

One of the key questions the researchers hope to answer is how important a part the genetic connection plays in a father's role. This will help to determine whether the current legal trend of ascribing paternity to the genetic father of the child is reflected in men's attitudes.

Jonathan Ives, the lead investigator on the project said: "The massive advances in Assisted Reproductive Technology and the changes to family life mean that many children may be brought up by a man who is not genetically related.

“To help inform the debate on this issue we are particularly keen to get the perspective of men who have been sperm donors in the past, men whose partners have had embryos frozen as part of IVF treatment, and men who have experienced pregnancy that either they or their partner did not want - regardless of the outcome, because we believe that they may have a unique perspective of fatherhood.

“People have been claiming for years that fatherhood is in a ‘crisis’, and it is evident from the work we have done so far that ‘fatherhood’ is a confused concept. What makes a man a father in one situation does not necessarily make a man a father in another, and the apparent inconsistencies between legal and social attitudes is arguably contributing towards the many problems and uncertainties that men, as fathers, are facing today.”

The study is still actively recruiting volunteers to take part in focus group sessions. Participants in the study will not be identifiable, and confidentiality can be assured. Contact Jonathan Ives on 0121 414 7849, or email ivesjz@medgp3.bham.ac.uk.

ENDS

Notes to Editors:

The research is being carried out in the University of Birmingham's Centre for Biomedical Ethics, in the Department of Primary Care and General Practice, and is funded by the Wellcome Trust.

Further information / interview requests:

Ben Hill: Press Office, University of Birmingham. Tel 0121 414 5134, 07789 921163

Dr Heather Draper, Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Ethics and supervisor of this study is available for interview via ISDN or telephone.