Limitations of infertility treatment: psychological, social and cultural

Valerie L Peddie and Maureen Porter

Having children is part of most people’s expectations of life. Failing to have them, or failing to have them when planned, causes emotional distress and a (sometimes painful) reordering of life’s priorities. This article reviews selected studies of the experience of infertility and its treatment and related advances in Western and some underdeveloped countries, and focuses on the psychological, social and cultural limitations identified. Stressful as infertility is for those in developed countries, it is generally acknowledged that it is worse, particularly for women, in many developing countries where limited treatment options are available and fewer opportunities for personal fulfilment outside the family exist. New reproductive technologies may have increased the chances of infertile men and women in developed countries having children, but they are not without limitations. In the context of stark differences in the availability of treatment and reproductive opportunities between the UK and sub-Saharan Africa, this paper highlights: the areas of common experience; the largely unacknowledged limitations of treatment failure and access to existing fertility treatment and its technological developments; and cultural expectations that place limitations on the possibilities for childless couples who are at the mercy of societal opinion and policy.