The World Health Organisation And The 'Right' To Reproduce

The World Health Organisation And The 'Right' To Reproduce

After the Ched Evans verdict two weeks ago, Katie Hopkins ranted against the "feminist online lynch mob" calling them "a court full of bitter women so busy fighting everything they'd shadow box their own reflection." Reading Hopkins' piece, I was left wondering why rape is once again reduced to the "innocent lad" versus the sexual vixen without any mention of the £50,000 offered for "new evidence." Not coincidentally, when it comes to women's bodies, facts and fiction are often interchanged and women's bodies are generally assumed to be part of the larger domain of male entitlement.

Nowhere is this more evident than the recent decision taken by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to classify single men and women as "infertile" if the subject does not have children and wants to become a parent. Although many might think nothing of this decision, there are two central problems that bear fleshing out here. The first is structural in that the World Health Organisation sets global health standards internationally and this ruling puts pressure on national health systems throughout the world, to include the NHS. So who can access infertility treatments may very well be affected by this decision.

More troubling, however, is that males could even be classified as "infertile" in the sense that "the inability to find a suitable sexual partner - or the lack of sexual relationships which could achieve conception - could be considered an equal disability." And this part of the forthcoming WHO shift from infertility as a medical condition to infertility with the "right to reproduce" should give everyone--especially females--pause. For although thus far there is no mention as to how this single man should go about having a child, the silence on this matter is troubling.

Dr David Adamson, one of the authors of the new WHO standards who is also CMO and founder of California-based ARC Fertility, told The Telegraph: "The definition of infertility is now written in such a way that it includes the rights of all individuals to have a family, and that includes single men, single women, gay men, gay women." As liberatory and ground-breaking as this might seem to those of us who are single and/or gay who have also built an alternative family structure, the reality is that the creation of a child necessitates the body of a female. And her presence in the single man's quest to exercise his "right to reproduce," is notably absent from Adamson's language. Adamson goes on to say, "It puts a stake in the ground and says an individual's got a right to reproduce whether or not they have a partner. It's a big change." The reality is that the change will uniquely be effected on the body of a female who must, we can only assume, serve the purpose of this single male's infertility.

In short, the WHO has classified infertility without recognising the somatic differences between the bodies which contribute sperm and those bodies which must incubate and carry a human life for nine months. This is not a DNA test where one must donate a specimen of saliva. This definition of infertility is not only lazy, it is highly troubling given that the posturing of a single man without partner as having a "disability" when it comes to having a child, implicates, dare I say necessitates, the involvement of a woman.

And The Telegraph goes right to the heart of this matter presenting a less chilling version of what the WHO decision may mean: "Legal experts said the new definition, which will be sent out to every health minister next year, may force a law change, allowing the introduction of commercial surrogacy." Surrogacy is a practice banned in most western countries due to the fundamental ethics that the body cannot or should not be bought or rented. Surrogacy as practiced in countries like India and certain US states for instance, has resulted in a social contract where relatively wealthy individuals who wish to exercise their "right" to have a child can rent the body of a female to this end. But Narendra Modi's government in India has unveiled a draft law which would ban commercial surrogacy altogether and follow the model of several European countries which will allow for altruistic surrogacy from a close relative. So while some countries are moving to protect women's rights, the implications of the WHO decision takes women's rights back, ordaining that a single male has the right to a female body. This ruling sets up a frightening picture for the future, eerily similar to Margaret Atwood's dystopic novel The Handmaiden's Tale (1985).

What is most chilling about the WHO equivalence placed on single male infertility is that it treats pregnancy in a not so dissimilar manner to how the media has stylised sexual assault victims alongside their concomitant male "victims" where the woman is rendered invisible if not entirely incidental to her own physical objectification. What matters today is how men are affected: from Donald Trump who recently claimed he was the "victim of a smear campaign" after a dozen accusations of sexual misconduct have surfaced in recent days, to Ched Evans who was found not guilty of rape in large part because the woman in question had sex with two other men around the period of the alleged rape. Where a woman's words are only as good as her chastity (apparently) or where a megalomaniac who is on record as groping women's bodies has now made himself the victim of his sexual dalliances, the WHO drives the nail in the coffin letting women know that men's rights to have a family must come at the expense of hers.

Let us not be fooled by what seems to be a progressive shift in WHO policy. This change represents the medical erosion of women's rights, couched in the feel-good language of, "Single men, you too have a right to reproduce." There is nothing progressive about it as women's bodies throughout history have been used to incubate human life as a result of rape, forcibly within marriage carrying an unwanted pregnancy, and even as a gesture of collaboration in a relationship where she has been pressured to start a family. The uncomfortable absence of explanation for how these single men will reproduce replicates the historical pattern which assumes, once again, a political designation of women's bodies as exchange value for men.

And as per usual, the self-congratulatory back patting over this WHO announcement is taking place uniquely between men.

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