A government announcement that discrepancies in funding for infertility treatment are to be ironed out was bound to cause media debate. News in this week's BioNews that the issue is to be referred to the National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) didn't fail to provoke comment from a number columnists.
On the whole, the discussion has been pretty intelligent. But a number of misconceptions persist. One such is the idea that infertility is not a medical problem. Infertility has a variety of causes, but most of them are disease or physical malfunction of some kind - things which are not just a sign of natural variation, but of an underlying pathology. Simon Heffer, in the Daily Mail, compared infertility to male baldness: something which is distressing, but not worthy of state funded treatment. But this is an unfair comparison. Male baldness is a perfectly natural, if upsetting, part of the ageing process. Infertility is not natural - at least for those women under the age of 40.
Some say that infertility may be caused by an underlying medical problem, but its symptoms aren't life-threatening. This is true - infertility itself never caused anyone to die. But there are treatments for other conditions which aren't life threatening - such as deafness or some mental health problems - that are deemed worthy of state funding.
But besides making the case for regarding infertility treatment as a medical necessity, we should also face up to the fact that an element of the demand for infertility treatment is social. There's nothing wrong with this. Nor is there anything new about making social demands upon the health service. We've been doing it with contraception for years and no-one wants to see that situation change. In a 1998 UK poll, 98 percent of respondents said they wanted contraception to remain free on the National Health Service.
So, if those who wish to avoid conception can get state funds to do so (and so they should), why can't those who wish to facilitate conception?