The Surprising Reason The WHO Wants To Call Being Single A Disability

Photographed by Alexandra Gavillet.
The World Health Organization (WHO) is about to announce that it will classify being single as a disability. If you're initial reaction is along the lines of "Wait, what?" you're not alone. But before you try to figure out what on Earth the WHO is trying to say about un-partnered people, let us explain: The reasoning behind this distinction has to do with giving more people access to in vitro fertilization (IFV). In order to qualify for public funding for IVF in some countries, you need to be deemed "infertile," which the WHO considers a disability. But obviously, sometimes people want to have a baby through IVF because they don't have a partner to reproduce with, even if they're physically capable of reproducing without the help of IVF. Under the WHO's previous definition of infertility, IVF is only open to couples who can't get pregnant after a year of trying. That means governments can get away with prohibiting people in same-sex relationships, as well as people without partners, from using the treatment. Currently, several countries require people seeking IVF to be married or even have a nuclear family for their future child, according to Fertility Treatment Abroad. U.S. laws vary from state to state but typically require the IVF recipient to have had unprotected sex for at least a year in order for insurance companies to be required to cover it, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. UK guidelines state that a couple needs to try for three years or have a physical fertility problem in order to receive National Institute for Health (NIH) and Care Excellence funding, according to the NIH. Same-sex couples are eligible only if they haven't been successful with a surrogate or privately funded treatments, according to The Telegraph. By issuing these new guidelines, the WHO is seeking to give everyone "the right to reproduce," according to the authors. While these new standards don't directly influence policy, they get sent out to individual countries' health ministers, who can exert pressure on governments to reform their laws.

"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," David Adamson, MD, an author of the standards, told The Telegraph. "It fundamentally alters who should be included in this group and who should have access to healthcare. It sets an international legal standard. Countries are bound by it." Sure, the wording may be a little awkward, but the change serves a worthwhile purpose.

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