Is Being Single a Disability?

News accounts reported that the World Health Organization had revised their definition of infertility to include single men and women.

Claim

The World Health Organization has listed being single as a disability under their definition of infertility.

Rating

Origin

The UK newspaper The Telegraph reported on 20 October 2016 that the World Health Organization (WHO) had revised their definition of infertility to include single men and women:

Single men and women without medical issues will be classed as “infertile” if they do not have children but want to become a parent, the World Health Organisation is to announce.

In a move which dramatically changes the definition of infertility, WHO will declare that it should no longer be regarded as simply a medical condition.

The authors of the new global standards said the revised definition gave every individual “the right to reproduce”.

Under the new terms, heterosexual single men and women, and gay men and women who want to have children would be given the same priority as couples seeking IVF because of medical fertility problems.

The organization’s decision, the Telegraph stated, was “likely to place pressure” on the National Health Service to change their eligibility standards concerning in-vitro fertilization.

However, even though the story was picked up by multiple news outlets, it did not include any material or comments from WHO. Instead, it quoted endocrinologist David Adamson, a leading reproductive health practitioner whose Huffington Post contributor profile lists him as a fertility expert for the WHO. According to the Telegraph, Adamson, listed as an author of the new WHO standards, said:

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.

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.

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.

We contacted Adamson to confirm the Telegraph‘s reporting, but he has yet to respond. Meanwhile, WHO’s web site does not reflect any changes to their terminology concerning infertility, which does not mention single people at all:

  • Infertility is “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.”
  • “Infertility is the inability of a sexually active, non-contracepting couple to achieve pregnancy in one year. The male partner can be evaluated for infertility or subfertility using a variety of clinical interventions, and also from a laboratory evaluation of semen.” 

The organization denied the Telegraph’s reporting in a statement sent to snopes.com on 29 October 2016:

In 2009, WHO joined with the International Committee for Monitoring Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ICMART) and other partners to develop a Glossary of definitions for infertility and fertility care. This Glossary included the clinical definition for infertility as “a disease of the reproductive system defined by the failure to achieve a clinical pregnancy after 12 months or more of regular unprotected sexual intercourse.” This is keeping with WHO definition of male and female infertility in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD 10)

WHO has not changed its use of this definition. It is important to note that this definition provides a clinical description of infertility. It does not make any recommendations about the provision of fertility care services.

WHO is currently collaborating with its partners to update the Glossary and consideration is being given to revising the definition of infertility. Should there be a change in the definition of infertility, it will remain a clinical description of infertility as a disease of the reproductive system and will not make recommendations about the provision of fertility care services.

WHO definitions are contained in ICD and that this glossary is not an official WHO publication but rather a work that WHO staff contribute to.

The organization also reiterated their definition of infertility via Twitter:

Dear Reader,

Snopes.com has long been engaged in the battle against misinformation, an effort we could not sustain without support from our audience. Producing reliable fact-checking and thorough investigative reporting requires significant resources. We pay writers, editors, web developers, and other staff who work tirelessly to provide you with an invaluable service: evidence-based, contextualized analysis of facts. Help us keep Snopes.com strong. Make a direct contribution today. Learn More.

Donate with PayPal