Last week was National Infertility Awareness Week, and my apologies for not getting around to this sooner, but it's the end of the term, so I'm going a bit crazy. Well, crazier than usual. As you might have noticed, I have a son. I've also been a surrogate and egg donor. So why do I care about infertility, as it's something that's obviously not been a personal struggle for me? The short answer- because I see infertility (IF) as not just a medical problem, but a human rights problem. The long answer is the rest of this post.
First off, even though IF often has a medical cause that is not the fault of the person suffering IF, it's also usually not covered by insurance in the US right now. This causes a huge financial burden to those that face IF, one that is not their fault, and nothing they could have controlled, and because reproduction is not "necessary" for life, assisted reproductive technology (ART), in all its forms, is often seen as voluntary or as a matter of convenience, when it's truly far from either of those things. This stigma trivializes a large portion of our population, as much as 1 in 6 people, and the suffering that they go through. This status as "voluntary" also tends to lead to health care providers charging exorbitant fees.
Along with the financial cost, IF incurs a huge emotional cost through stress, delayed hopes and dreams, invasive/dangerous/humiliating doctor's appointments and social stigma. Those with IF are often subjected to the flippant "Why don't you just adopt?". Those words may seem simple enough, but adoption is currently also stigmatized in our society, as witnessed by the acquittal of manslaughter charges of a man whose Russian son died under his car, and the lack of US outcry upon the return of Justin/Artyom Hansen alone to Russia. Essentially, "Why don't you just adopt?" is asking "Why don't you just accept your second class status?" We don't consider medical disabilities to mean that a person is a second class citizen, why should this medical condition be any different?
This idea of adoption as an alternative also trivializes the costs associated with adoption. Adoption incurs similar types of costs as IF, along with the judgment by third parties as to your fitness as a prospective parent (i.e. home visits and psychological screenings, which may also be associated with IF treatment). This perspective is something completely absent from "natural" family creation. In some extreme cases, the ability to adopt is limited by the evaluators' personal bias or systemic preferences, issues that work against non-traditional families including homosexual couples, single homo- or heterosexuals, mixed families and others.
Finally, IF- while it does affect both men and women- is especially detrimental to women, as there is still a very strong social pressure that defines women as mothers. This is the twenty first century, and both men and women should be free to choose to put their energies toward family, career, or both as they desire, however women are pressured to put their energy towards family more than are men. Thus IF for men is less of a failure, as it doesn't affect their career (the traditional male role in industrialized societies) and the lack of a family is more often seen as a choice for men.
The fact is that we need to accept all families as equal, however they came about, just as much as we need to accept all people as equal.