In August I went to an international conference which touched various. One of these was on the role of women in society and particularly in Arab countries. There was a girl from Palestine there: Tasneem. She is a highly educated doctor who comes from a very wealthy family. She gave a presentation and talked about a Palestinian programme on health which implements a pre-marital screening for Thalassemia. This is an illness that creates little problems if one is a positive carrier, but which can cause big health issues in a baby born from two positive carriers. Before every marriage men are checked first and women are checked only if the man is positive. This is good because it prevents men calling of the wedding if the girl is a positive carrier.
In many countries, if both the man and the woman are positive carriers, the couple is oriented towards experts that can help them understand options and decide what to do. In Palestine though, the couple is not allowed to get married anymore, unless they go abroad.
I understand the religious reasons behind this, but, nevertheless, I feel very sad for these couples who are not given alternative options. I think of marriage as a union between two people who love each other and want to share their lives, not necessarily to have children. Although I understand the need to prevent the birth of children with serious health issues, it should be their choice if they want to get married – and deal with the consequences of the situation – or split up.
Of course I then started wondering what happens to infertile couples. When I asked Tasneem, she said that couples who had troubles conceiving first needed to be tested to see if there is a problem in either of them. If there is no problem, they carry on trying and if it doesn’t work, the man can chose to marry again. Similarly, if the woman has a problem, the man can divorce or marry again. If the man has a problem, the woman can chose to divorce or to stay with him. If she stays she can’t complain though. Tasneem explained this as if it was the most natural thing in the world. I am always fascinated by how cold some women with no fertility problems can be towards infertiles.
Again, I can’t help feeling sad at the thought of infertile women who grow up in cultures where they do not have the same options we have. Not only do they suffer from infertility and long to have a baby, but they may also have to see their husband marry another woman in order to procreate. Accepting egg or sperm donation is clearly not an option. And adoption is not possible because the idea of someone external joining the family as a proper family member is unacceptable.
I understand all these options are not for everyone and that techniques like IVF or using donors go against some religious beliefs, but I am personally happy to have the choice and the power to decide.