Joan Smith: Childless and happy? I am, and so are many others

Share
Related Topics

Some people oppose fertility treatments on principle. They talk suspiciously about "designer babies" and "Frankenstein science", or have religious objections to the idea of doctors manipulating human embryos.

No one on that side of the argument is going to welcome a new technique called "three-parent IVF", which is designed to help couples affected by mitochondrial diseases to have healthy children. Last week, the Secretary of State for Health, Andrew Lansley, asked the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority to assess the controversial new treatment.

Mitochondria are present in every human cell and these couples risk producing children with serious and unpleasant conditions. The new treatment involves the transfer of human genetic material between two fertilised eggs, producing embryos which will have the nuclear DNA of their parents and the mitochondrial DNA of a donor; hence the "three-parent" tag. In fact, the amount of material from the donor would be very small, and as long as there aren't unacceptable risks to the embryo, it's hard to see why this form of treatment is more objectionable than other types of IVF.

What's rarely addressed in these deliberations are the unproven assumptions that drive IVF and the thriving fertility industry, or the impact on the wider population. A new fertility treatment is invariably accompanied by interviews with childless couples who say they feel their lives are incomplete; it's an argument that's been accepted without question, and IVF has for some time been available on the NHS, even though it's expensive and far from essential.

Not having children isn't an illness in the usual sense, and it certainly isn't a life-threatening condition, but fertility experts send women a hugely reactionary message. They encourage them to think they're failures if they don't have babies, implicitly dismissing any individual or couple who chooses to remain childless.

There's a very basic mistake here. For centuries, the fact that most women who had sex got pregnant perpetuated the myth of a universal maternal instinct. I don't have it and I know plenty of other women who don't. Quite a few men, I suspect, would be happy not to have children, but couples come under huge pressure from family and friends to start procreating. What few people – especially fertility doctors, most of whom are male and have massive egos – seem to realise is that there's no evidence for the assumption that having children makes people happy.

A commentary on the latest research highlights "the discrepancy between the widespread belief that children bring happiness and the fact that research finds either a negative or no significant relationship between parenthood and well-being". People think children will make them happy, but a new study shows that for parents under the age of 30, the level of happiness decreases with the first and each additional child. Parents in the 30-39 age group are no happier than childless couples.

Like the existence of a universal maternal instinct, the idea that life is pointless without children is a myth. Some childless couples feel the absence keenly and I don't have ethical objections if they opt to have IVF, but I'm not convinced that the NHS should pay for it. The idea of "designer babies" worries me less than the flawed rationale behind fertility treatment, not to mention the industry's cavalier disregard of its role in adding more children to our overcrowded world.

www.politicalblonde.com; twitter.com/@polblonde

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

An unelectable extremist who hijacked their party has already served as prime minister – her name was Margaret Thatcher

Jacques Peretti
 

I don't blame parents who move to get their child into a good school

Chris Blackhurst
Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent