A fiery debate about allowing IVF access to singles and lesbians was aired on the Nine Network’s Sixty Minutes on Sunday August 13. What went on behind the scenes was as interesting as what was finally aired.
When called a week earlier and asked to contribute to the debate, I had a number of reservations. I have participated in many other such television debates, and few of them have been even-handed or objective affairs. Most were loaded decks, with the conservative, pro-family side a decided minority, and only appearing as a token gesture of “balance”. Moreover, television is a poor medium for proper debate, with heat generated more easily than light.
Indeed, the debate nearly didn’t get off the ground. Those of us giving the pro-family side to the debate found out on the day it was to be recorded that the show was going to feature a ten-year-old child of a lesbian couple as part of the debate. I and others objected, arguing that this was unethical and perhaps even illegal. Ten-year-olds cannot give testimony in a court of law. Also, children should not be exploited and manipulated in this way. Thus we told the show’s host, Ellen Fanning, that we could not be part of the debate if this child appeared. After much discussion with Ms Fanning (who in turn had much discussion with her producers), the child was pulled from the show.
I told Ms Fanning that the debate would still be far from fair: a number of alternative lifestyle families would put on the ‘human face’ of the debate, pitted against a number of arm chair critics (academics, pro-family activists and – worse still – clerics) who would sit in judgment. The nature of television would tend to make all the sympathy go to the families while those offering a critique would come across as the bad guys.
Yet in the interests of getting a pro-family point of view across, I agreed to join in. I was one of 2 dozen participants in the debate. There were 12 people of several same-sex and single parent families on one side of the room, with 12 “experts” – mostly critical of the alternative lifestyles – on the other side. All in all, about 9 of the 24 were “on side”. (Several of the debaters on our half of the room represented the IVF industry – including Professor Carl Wood. But other able spokespersons were there, such as Nicholas Tonti-Filipinni, Anna Krohn of the Thomas More Centre, Senator Julian McGauren, and Peter and Jenny Stokes of Salt Shakers.) However this was much better than most debates I have been a part of, where the ratios were usually only 1 out of 5 or 10.
Predictably, the debate alternated between emotive stories of singles and gays who just wanted their children, and those of us who argued that the rights of the child were being overlooked in the debate. Ms Lisa Meldrum, who sparked the original court case, pled to have a child because she “really wanted one”. She had a “right” to have a child, and that was all that mattered. We tried to point out that there is no right to a child, and that while no one doubts that she, and the other women there, might make very good mothers, they would make very poor dads.
All up, about five alternative family arrangements were featured on the show. The last was the most bizarre of the lot, but typical of where the slippery slope is heading in this regard. A 22-year-old homosexual wanted a baby, and had a lesbian friend who was willing to provide the egg. The boys’ mum had offered to carry the child. Again, all concerned found no problem whatsoever in such an arrangement, and were indignant that our side could be so “judgmental” and “intolerant”. Indeed, one child who was allowed to be part of the debate, a fifteen-year-old girl, passionately defended her two lesbian “mums”, and seemed especially annoyed that I could suggest that she might in some ways be disadvantaged by not having a father.
Of course one wouldn’t expect the girl to bag her parents – it is the only family she has known. Of course she would defend them and claim everything is rosy. What else would one expect? Again, emotive stories were substituted for more objective evidence as their case was put forward.
And so it went, for an hour and a half. But what the person with the scissors does in the editing room is the real clincher. The final 18 minutes that made it to air were not too bad however. They were representative of the debate as a whole, and allowed many of the voices to be heard.
Given that no matter how the debate was cut, and the conservative case would have appeared to have “won”, the producers of the show still had one more trick up their sleeves. The debate was sandwiched between two other stories, both meant (perhaps) to undermine the pro-family voice. For example the first story was about how two babies were switched at birth, and now – years later – the boys prefer to live with their non-biological parents.
But over all, regardless of the merits of the debaters, one suspects that most ordinary Australians watching the show would have been somewhat disturbed by the various family reformulations put on offer. Most would have been repulsed by the cavalier disregard shown for the most important members of the debate – the children themselves. Indeed, the attempt to use the ten-year-old as a political football is indicative of the way many seek to turn our children into commodities, using them for their own selfish ends.
But children are seldom considered in these debates. It is all about the wants of adults. We live in an age where adults are acting like children, while children are being ignored and neglected. And that is a sign of a sick society.