Defining Infertility and Singlehood as a Disability

November 1, 2016 by dccinc

What do you see when you think of the word “disability”?  Many people think of the International Symbol of Access – a white stick figure sitting in a wheelchair on a blue background. The International Symbol of Access can be found on many spaces and services for people living with disabilities. For example, on the door of accessible washrooms and on parking slots designated for persons living with disabilities to name a few.

What about a romantic couple without a baby carriage? Or a person who is not in a romantic relationship? Are they disabled? According to the World Health Organization (WHO)’s new standard concerning infertility all couples and single individuals could be labelled as disabled.

Prior to this standard, the WHO had been defining infertility as a disability. Infertility is a disability because it causes individuals to have the inability to function in a certain way. According to the WHO, a couple is regarded as infertile if they have had unprotected sexual intercourse for 12 months or longer and are unable to conceive.

The WHO’s new standard about who would be considered infertile could include individuals who are not in a sexual relationship or who are in a sexual relationship but who are not able to conceive, The Daily Telegraph reports. Defining infertility in such broad terms could then entail same-sex couples and single individuals to be regarded as infertile.

As alluded by The Daily Telegraph, if the WHO broadens its standard on defining infertility it could widen who is eligible for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) treatment.  This could have a significant impact for a large demographic since already about 1 out of 6 couples in Canada experience infertility.

Criticisms in defining infertility

There has been criticism with defining infertility to include singlehood and to define people who are single as disabled. Why is this so?

There have been many technical advancements made for people with disabilities that can help people who may not identify as disabled. Such as: elevators, escalators, audio books and voice commands for electronic devices, like Siri. While certain services and resources are specifically for persons with disabilities many technologies that were made for persons with disabilities can be benefitted, desired and used by people who may not personally identify or be regarded as living with a disability.

Why can’t this extend to treatment options? Like IVF?

Medical treatment may not be the same as technological advancements and the WHO’s new standard could include financial and logistical concerns if it affects who is eligible for IVF treatment. Also a topic I have not yet and will not fully touch upon in this article (due to it being such a large and important topic and one that needs to be thoroughly explored on its own) is the societal “need” to classify any behavior or physical component of an individual as a deficiency or a disability if it doesn’t meet the high and impossible standards we place upon the human body. No one is perfectly able-bodied. Everyone has impairments, whether physical or mental, to some degree. And as we get older we will live with more impairments. So why is there a need to classify someone as having the inability to do something? Because there is an expectation to be a self-sufficient body that is able to work in a neo-liberalist society. This causes people to have unrealistic expectations on their bodies and on others. These expectations can lead to discrimination and stigma.

I believe the criticism for defining infertility to include singlehood and all sexual relationships and in turn as a disability is not fully a result of the above discussion. There is criticism for defining infertility and singlehood as a disability because a large demographic do not want to be labelled as disabled. And why do they not want to be labelled as disabled? Maybe because they do not see themselves as disabled  or identify as being disabled. Many people who are labelled as disabled such as by a University, may not personally identify as being disabled. For example a person living with an intellectual disability may not identify as living with a disability. They may have difficulty learning a certain way and may need extra time to finish an assignment or a test and recognize this difficulty, but they may not personally identify as living with disability. However, for them to have access to the university’s learning services and accommodations they need to apply and show that they have a disability regardless of how they personally identify themselves. Everyone has a right to personally identify as living with a disability. And there could be several reasons for why a person does or does not want to identify as living with a disability. However, everyone should have the right to freely identify as living with a disability and not fearing to face discrimination or stigma for identifying as such. Because I largely believe that is why people do not want to identify as being disabled. Whether the WHO’s new standard for infertility includes labelling partners in a variety of relationships or singlehood as infertile and disabled is put in place, it is important to note the backlash this topic has received. I am not personally supporting the WHO’s new standard on infertility nor am I entirely against this standard. But it appears society as a whole is trying to be more inclusive and equitable by having awareness campaigns and public outrage against discriminatory actions. At the same time though people do not want to be labelled as disabled. And this is because the stigma associated with being disabled is still present and unrelenting.

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