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What is Infertility? (And Why We Should Care) 

Giulia Cavaliere (KCL)


Infertility is a complex condition. It has biological and social components; it is relational; and it has elements of both voluntariness (in relation to the desire to have children) and involuntariness (we do not choose to be infertile). Existing definitions of infertility often contradict one another, and criteria to diagnose it are disputed. This has tangible effects on people’s lives as receiving a diagnosis of infertility is often necessary to access fertility treatment. In this paper, firstly, I argue that any plausible account of ‘infertility’ must solve a puzzle: why do we consider women and couples who are unable to have (genetically related) children but do not wish to have children infertile while considering women and couples who are unable to have (genetically related) children but wish to have children not infertile?. Secondly, I examine existing accounts of infertility and argue that they fail to solve this puzzle. I then defend an approach to the study of infertility informed by Sally Haslanger’s (2012) idea of amelioration. Following this approach, ‘infertility’ should be conceived as “a state of affairs X (childlessness) that an agent A does not want to find herself in due to a desire for Y (having genetically related children)”. Central to my approach is the idea that there is something exceptional with respect to people’s inability to conceive that makes it necessary for it to be defined by including volitional attitudes in the definition. The rest of the paper defends this approach against objections and shows that it has several advantages over existing accounts. 

The Institute of Philosophy hosts a regular workshop series entitled ‘The Practical, the Political, and the Ethical’.
The series was created in 2015 by Véronique Munoz-Dardé (UCL) and Hallvard Lillehammer (Birkbeck) in order to discuss work in progress from visiting speakers.
This year the series is convened by Elise Woodard (KCL) and Michael Hannon (Nottingham). Talks are normally 45 minutes (no pre-circulation of the paper), followed by discussion. All are welcome.