NHS South East London’s leaked policy advice banning single women from accessing IVF has provoked a predictable barrage of criticism. Their statement of unpalatable truth – that ‘Single mothers are generally poorer . . . thereby placing a greater burden on society in general’ has been described as ‘shockingly outdated’ and ‘demeaning’.

Telegraph writer Celia Walden, while sympathising with those who cannot have children, as well as single mothers, has correctly observed that, ‘denial of fertility treatment’ has been read by dissenters as ‘denial of children’. She says the word ‘denial’ implies that it is every woman’s right to be a mother: single, married, gay, straight or identifying as any one of the orientations laid out in a sexual smorgasbord for us by the PC brigade. And that it is her right for that motherhood to be paid for by the state – at around £3,500 a cycle. 

This is not however the first time that the IVF entitlement culture has come up against an unusually defiant NHS and as something of a rude shock. The Mid Essex Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) decision to stop offering IVF treatment on the NHS a few years ago prompted a similar blast of negative responses. It turned out that they were far from the only CCG to disregard the NICE guidelines and to cut their IVF provision. In fact only 18 per cent of CCGs were found to offer three cycles. A survey by ‘Fertility Fairness’ also found that half of CCGs were providing just one cycle free to women. Others offered it only to women under 35, while in some areas women were having to wait longer than the recommended three years before IVF is given. I imagine little has changed.

NHS practitioners are possibly better aware than the public of the harsh IVF reality that even a woman who is under 35 years has only a one in three chance of having a baby using IVF. No wonder the significant costs to the NHS (the average cost of one cycle privately is £5,000) and the ‘success’ rate inevitably have to be weighed carefully against other NHS stewardship considerations and that realism triumphed.

Yet for all this clamour about the right to fertility what still passes unnoticed is that the very thing that has become so prized is also treated with remarkably little respect. The paradox of ‘going to all that trouble to have a child’ – the fabled ‘wanted child’ – is that it has shifted the child’s worth from being an intrinsic one to one that is secondary – an accessory dependent upon somebody else’s desires and demands. Thanks to reproductive technology and ‘liberal’ laws, a child can be both obtained and got rid of; with both acts accorded equal value in this adult needs centred society.

Just a few years ago single motherhood was deplored; now, although the drawbacks for the child remain exactly the same, being able to have a baby has come to be regarded as a human right, regardless of age, health, circumstance or even gender. The right of the child to a father and a mother and stable and safe family life meanwhile descends to a distant last in these human rights stakes.

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