Brian Sloan: ‘The ‘Chimera’ of Parenthood’

Speaker: Dr Brian Sloan, College Lecturer & Fellow in Law, Robinson College, Cambridge

A joint seminar between Cambridge Reproduction and the Cambridge Socio-Legal Group.

In 2015, The Independent newspaper reported the case of a man who had ‘failed’ a paternity test in the United States because the genetic material in his saliva was different from that in his sperm. This was apparently the first reported instance of a paternity test being ‘fooled’ by a ‘human chimera’. Such a chimera has extra genes, in this instance absorbed from a twin lost in early pregnancy. The result was that the true genetic father of the man’s son was the man’s deceased twin, who had never been born. Cases of chimeras potentially present a challenge to legal systems, given their frequent emphasis on genetics in determining parenthood. This seminar will explore the likely practical response of English Law to the situation of a potential chimera, with reference inter alia to the human rights of all family members involved. The seminar will then consider what the phenomenon of the chimera might tell us about our understanding of parenthood and the differences between biological motherhood and fatherhood respectively. It will advocate the recognition of the chimeric person as the ‘true’ legal father but point out that this may require fatherhood to be understood as more of a ‘process’ than is often realised.

Brian Sloan is College Lecturer & Fellow in Law, Robinson College, Cambridge and a member of the Cambridge Family Law Centre. His research focuses on issues including care of both adults and children. He is the author/editor of several books, most recently Spaces of Care (Hart, 2020, edited with Loraine Gelsthorpe and Perveez Mody). Several of his many articles concern the law of adoption and parenthood.

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