LETTER: INFERTILITY IS AN ILLNESS AND THE NHS SHOULD PROVIDE TREATMENT

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From Ms Clare Brown

Sir: I read with interest your series of articles on infertility (18 April) and I agree with many of the sentiments expressed in your editorial.

There is considerable debate as to whether infertility is an illness or not. Infertile couples are not "well", in that part of one or both. of them does not function properly; and they need treatment in order to rectify the problem. The inability to conceive is a "symptom" indicating that there is something medically wrong.

Furthermore, infertility fits into the definition of illness used by the World Health Organisation and by the NHS itself. The points which your editorial made about the suffering undergone by infertile couples are entirely accurate. Infertility places a huge strain on couples, which is often well hidden and underestimated. Clinical depression is a common result of infertility and some relationships do not withstand the strain,

The success rate quoted (one in eight couples becoming pregnant) is actually the rate, of live births resulting from a cycle of IVF. A rather higher proportion of women actually become pregnant. There is clear evidence that these success rates are improving all the time and, in many centres, success rates close to those of nature itself are routinely produced. IVF is increasingly a routine treatment giving infertile couples almost the same chance of producing a baby as fertile couples have.

You rightly say that many couples are forced to seek treatment privately and this can put an intolerable financial strain upon them. Many infertile couples make huge financial sacrifices in pursuit of a family. Consequently, we find Labour's reported approach to policy in this area rather odd. It is hardly right to decide policy on the basis that because treatment isn't offered everywhere it shouldn't be offered anywhere. This would merely increase the inequity of provision already faced by the infertile, rather than reduce it.

Equally it makes no sense to suggest that every couple should make a contribution towards infertility treatment as a mark of their commitment to having children. There is no collection box awaiting fertile couples when they decide to have children. For the fertile majority, funding is total at all stages, up to and including a decision to terminate an unwanted pregnancy. Why are infertile couples expected to accept that, for them, having children should be a luxury or only available privately? Of all the injustices faced by the infertile, this is perhaps the greatest.

Yours faithfully,

CLARE BROWN

Chair, National Infertility

Awareness Campaign

Welwyn Garden City,

Hertfordshire

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