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Bioethics Today Series: The importance of ART for women in “developing” countries

Today we continue our series highlighting reproductive medicine blog posts written by Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD, from the Alden March Bioethics Institute at Albany Medical College for BIOETHICS TODAY.  Dr. Campo-Engelstein's main research areas include reproductive ethics (particularly contraception, oncofertility, birth, and embry and parthenote research), gender and medicine, cancer ethics, and international bioethics (especially Costa Rica).  

BIOETHICS TODAY is the blog of the Alden March Bioethics Institute, presenting topical and timely commentary on issues, trends, and breaking news in the broad arena of bioethics. BIOETHICS TODAY presents interviews, opinion pieces, and ongoing articles on health care policy, end-of-life decision making, emerging issues in genetics and genomics, procreative liberty and reproductive health, ethics in clinical trials, medicine and the media, distributive justice and health care delivery in developing nations, and the intersection of environmental conservation and bioethics.

The importance of assisted reproductive technologies for women in "developing" countries

Author: Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD

BIOETHICS TODAY, March 20, 2014

While assisted reproductive technologies (ART) are common in most "developed" countries (the global North), in the global South ("developing countries), ART is generally not available for a variety of reasons, most of which center around money.  These resource-poor countries typically lack both qualified health-care professionals and facilities necessary for ART.  Although some countries do have ART centers, the cost of ART is prohibitive for all but the extremely wealthy.  Indeed, infertility is usually seen as a treatable problem only for the upper class primarily because the poor cannot afford basic health care let alone expensive treatment like ART.  The fact that the majority of people in the global South cannot afford basic health care, which is typically seen as the top priority in health-care allocation, is another reason why ART are not readily available in the global South.  Most public and private health-care funding goes toward primary care and not treatments that are often seen as elective and cosmetic, like ART. 

Yet, infertility can be considered a health problem according to the World Health Organization's broad definition of health – "Health is a state of complete physical, metal, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." Infertility in the global South can have severe and interrelated social, economic and health-related consequences for women.  This is still the case when the woman is physiologically fertile but her partner has male factor infertility; she is the one who is generally blamed for the couple's inability to have a biological child. 

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