Response to a Rant about Infertile Whiners

1999-03-21. This morning I started receiving email about the infertile whiners rant. After being posted for four months with nary a response, suddenly I was Mr. Popular. Well, maybe not popular... "infamous" might be a better word. Nobody seemed to like the rant; I was told I "need some serious counseling", my opinion was "stupid", I was "narrow-minded", and had "no sympathy or empathy for your fellow man". Not bad email for a Sunday morning.

After corresponding with the writers, I finally learned that the rant's URL had been posted to an infertility bulletin board with the comment "I can't believe someone actually had the nerve to put this on-line". Ah-hah! The email writers had seen the URL on that board.

Well, it was a bulletin board, after all. So I crafted and sent the following reply. I have no idea if this will mollify or inflame people, but that's the mystery of life, isn't it?

Hello. I am the author of the Web page that offended so many people on this forum.

I don't care to argue issues, nor to attack anyone on this forum. That's not what this site is about. I realize the simple presence of this post may cause pain to some, and that is not my intent. What I am concerned about, however, is the correct interpretation of what I said. If the subject under discussion bothers you, please continue on to the next discussion thread without reading the rest of this message.

So far, I've received several messages claiming that I have no sympathy for people with infertility problems. Several has gone so far as to claim that I cannot understand how infertility can affect peoples' lives, since (they assume) I am not infertile.

Surprise. I am infertile. I've spent thirty-two years living with cystic fibrosis as well, dealing with a daily drug regimen, physical therapy, x-rays, illnesses, checkups, and hospitalizations. Let's not forget to throw in diabetes to boot. So I think I've paid my dues when it comes to medical problems.

The essay wasn't about infertile people in toto. Nor was it about people whose infertility was a side effect of another, debilitating medical condition. It was specifically about people who have no other problems aside from fertility, and expect medical insurers to pay for their treatment. The rant was written in response to a Morning Edition piece in which one couple had spent US$20000 on treatments, another US$30000. One of these people claimed that his infertility was not only a disease, it was a disability.

I know disabled people. Even considering all the things I can't do because of cystic fibrosis, I would never consider myself disabled. I can walk and bike around, read without problems, cook and keep house for myself, do my taxes (sometimes!), and hold down good jobs. CF has some effect on my life, but not enough to be considered disabling. My infertility is a side effect of CF; if I'm not disabled because of CF, then I'm certainly not disabled because I'm infertile.

Yes, it is unfortunate that some people are unable to bear children. It is also unfair that not everyone is physically what they desire to be. Yet is not the role of medical insurers to provide everyone with the means to obtain what they desire. The role of medical insurance is to guarantee the health of its subscribers. I'd like to be 25 pounds heavier, with some muscle and increased lung capacity, but it's not going to happen. And I do not expect my medical insurer to pay for whatever treatment it would take to make me so, unless it provably and significantly increased my healthiness.

My opinion differs from many in that I do not see the ability to father/bear a child as a necessity to one's health. That is my opinion, and I stand by it; I don't feel a need to explain the origin of that belief.

I did not post the rant (and, mind you, it is cleared labeled as a rant) in order to hurt people. On the other hand, I expect people who read Web pages to have some measure of maturity when it comes to material they disagree with. No one forces anyone to read a Web page; you read it by your own choice. [As a matter of fact, I have had no responses to this page in the four months it has been on the Web -- until this morning. And I know people have read the page. They have taken it for what it is -- a rant.]

You may be interested to know that a couple of friends have been dealing with infertility problems for years. I have not volunteered to them my opinion on the subject, nor have they sought it. For all I know, they may have read the rant long ago. But if they did ask, I would not lie to them. I assume that people read Web pages because they are interested in reading my writing. If they don't want to, they won't. Simple.

As for the argument about whether, if I contracted lung cancer from smoking, I should expect my medical insurer to pay for it -- I wouldn't. It's a tough call, since the addictive properties of tobacco are well known, and the question of the responsibility of the tobacco companies is a very murky question. Yet I believe that we should take responsibility for our actions. Anyone who starts smoking today very likely knows the health risks; I would have very little sympathy for their claims for insurance coverage.

To follow the analogy farther, if a cure for cystic fibrosis were available tomorrow, I do not feel that I would have an automatic right to it at my health insurer's expense. My life is okay. Others with CF, not so fortunate as I, should certainly receive the treatment. But I'm stable, and my CF is manageable. I'd like the treatment, certainly, but I don't expect it handed to me on a platter just because I have this condition.

In the end, I don't spend my life dwelling on what I can't do. Rather, I focus on what is possible, and what I can do with what I have -- which is a surprisingly large amount. I realize that for some people, having a child is the most important thing in their lives, and the inability causes a lot of emotional pain. Yet, over the years, I've learned that it's futile to rail against CF and expect others to compensate for my inabilities. That's not fair to anyone. No one caused CF in me. It happened by chance, it sucks, and that is life. It's something I have to live with, and I do. And once I made that realization, my life was now one of possibilities, not closed doors.

You can reply if you want (via my Web page; see the URL and read the page for instructions). I don't think either of us will change each others' minds, however. I'd be happy to read logical, coherent arguments about why medical insurers should pay for fertility treatments in the absence of other medical problems. Flames and/or ad hominem attacks are not welcome, and should not be a part of any mature adult's set of rhetorical tools.

In response to the person who originally posted the URL: believe it or not, people have the nerve to put all sorts of things online, including opinions that aren't popular. It's a First Amendment kind of thing, y'know.

I'm going to keep the original emails on file, so if you're curious about them let me know. Some of the people were a pleasure to correspond with, but others make me wonder if they'd be fit parents.


1999-03-23. The tempest in a teapot seems to be over. The discussion thread was removed from the bulletin board within the past day, and I haven't received any mail on the subject. That's fine with me. It felt strange to be involved in a minor-league flame war for the first time since my early college days.

Throughout the whole thing, though, no one answered the basic question: why should I be expected to pay for something others want but do not need?

1999-04-0. A deeply weird scenario ran through my head several weeks ago.

Last updated 2 June 2000
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