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Sunday, 20 April 2014

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Baby dilemma

IS the NHS so awash with cash that it can afford to offer free IVF treatment to same sex couples?

Louise Allonby
Louise Allonby

Apparently so.

The government announced this week that new guidelines will give homosexual and lesbian couples the same rights as heterosexual couples when it comes to infertility treatment. At the same time, the upper age limit for fertility treatment is to be increased by three years to 42.

The latter suggestion seems reasonable – after all, many women conceive naturally after the age of 40, so why shouldn’t those who can’t do so have access to help? (Universal access as of right is another matter, of course).

But the guidance on homosexual IVF treatment from the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) seems to be little more than a misguided exercise in social engineering.

It is hard to see how a stretched NHS should be expected to foot the bill for the lifestyle choices of thousands of gay and lesbian couples who decide they want to have children.

As a critic of the plans, Josephine Quintavalle of the Comment on Reproductive Ethics campaign group, pointed out this week, whilst infertility treatment is important, offering it to same-sex couples strays into the territory of trying to rewrite biology.

It is difficult to argue against that viewpoint. Two males or two females cannot biologically reproduce. Fact. Surely the lifestyle choice to be in a same sex relationship should involve acceptance of the fact that this will bring limitations: the main one being that no offspring will naturally result from the relationship.

Yet now it appears that the NHS is preparing to fund the arguably unreasonable desires of a potentially very large group of people.

Gay rights champions of the guidelines are of course delighted with the proposals, seeing them as another step away from the apparent “outright discrimination” some gay couples are subjected to – not least by health authorities.

But is it the role of the NHS to fund treatment which it is hard to construe as anything other than unnecessary? If it is, it will be interesting to see how many hard-pressed health authorities are able to justify the inevitable economic strain on services from funding same-sex fertility treatments.

If, as is widely predicted, the new guidelines lead to a boom in demand for free fertility treatment by gay and lesbian couples, something is going to have to give in other far more critical areas of the health service. In this age of cuts and austerity, health authorities are under immense financial pressure to keep costs under control, sometimes to the point where potentially lifesaving drugs and treatments simply cannot be afforded.

The government guidelines on same sex fertility treatment therefore appear to be most untimely. Whilst many people consider infertility to be an illness that the NHS should treat, it is difficult in the extreme to extend that argument to the situation of same-sex couples, for whom childlessness is surely an unfortunate but biologically inescapable fact of life.

Have your say

Doug: Sorry but you and your arguments are why there is bigotry and hatred in the world. You really don;'t get it do you?

Posted by Mike on 31 May 2012 at 09:03

Doug, Debate normally calls for a modicum of courtesy,not just personal slanging.

Posted by Ned on 30 May 2012 at 13:36

View all 21 comments on this article

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