May 19, 2013
The story of Jane and Jessica
Jane is 34 years old and lives in a London Borough called Leafbury with her 30-year-old partner Eric.
She has four children from a previous relationship, aged 14, 12, 10 and 8, but they do not live with Jane and Eric. Jane openly admits she is “not the mothering type” and does not have a close relationship with her children, especially as they do not get along with Eric who is a heavy drinker and often in trouble with the police.
Jane’s ex-partner and his new wife have custody of all four children, an arrangement everybody is happy with.
Jane and Eric have a rocky relationship and often row. Jane works night shifts and needs to sleep during the day but Eric does not work and often has his friends over for daytime drinking sessions which disturbs Jane’s sleep, which in turn affects her performance at work. She gets irritated with Eric for spending so much money on alcohol.
Eric believes the fact he gave up smoking with Jane two years ago should be enough to please her and he should not be expected to cut down on his drinking as well.
Jane is estranged from her family and does not have any close friends, so she is completely reliant on Eric for emotional support, but his drinking and inconsiderate behaviour means she constantly feels let down by him. The pair decided having a child together would mend their unhappy relationship, but after two years of trying Jane has not fallen pregnant. This has added more strain to their relationship.
Jessica is also 34 and lives in a nearby Borough of London called Petalbury with her civil partner Rebecca who is 45.
The couple have been together for ten years and in a civil partnership for the last seven. Jessica works as a primary school teacher and Rebecca works from home as a children’s book illustrator.
For the past five years, Jessica and Rebecca have successfully fostered a number of children, something which has brought them great joy and satisfaction. The troubled children who entered their home have all left much happier with higher self-esteem due to the loving, stable and caring environment Jessica and Rebecca were able to provide for them.
Jessica is from a close family and has a particularly strong bond with her twin brother Joshua who lives just around the corner with his wife and two daughters. Jessica and Rebecca often spend time with Joshua and his family and have a great relationship with their two nieces, who simply adore their lesbian aunties.
Jessica and Rebecca would love to have a family of their own one day, but their modest income means private fertility treatment is not an option for them.
One day, Jessica and Rebecca read an article in Lesbilicious magazine. They discovered new guidelines were in place for NHS trusts which stated same-sex couples should not be discriminated against when it comes to fertility treatment and funding for same-sex couples should receive the same priority as straight couples. Feeling heartened they made an appointment with their local doctor to see what options were available to them.
After a blood test showed Jessica was ovulating as normal, their doctor agreed to refer Jessica for Intrauterine insemination (IUI). This is a fairly simple procedure where Jessica would be artificially inseminated with donor sperm and costs between £500 and £1000 per cycle of treatment.
That same day Jane received some news. Tests from her local doctor confirmed there was no problem with her fertility and the reason she had not fallen pregnant was due to Eric’s low sperm count. Jane’s doctor also agreed to refer Jane for fertility treatment but she was not referred for IUI. New guidelines state if a straight couple have been unsuccessfully trying to conceive for two years they should be referred for three cycles of in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) which costs, on average, £5,000 per cycle of treatment.
One month later
Jessica received a letter from Petalbury’s NHS Trust stating the Trust was unwilling to fund Jessica’s IUI treatment. On the same day Jane received a letter from Leafbury’s NHS Trust referring her and Eric to a fertility clinic for in-vitro fertilisation (IVF).
Why did Jane’s case receive funding while Jessica’s did not?
Funding for fertility treatment is a grey area with policies varying from trust to trust. Each case is assessed on an individual basis and the criteria can be very different. Some trusts only offer treatment to women under 35 while others offer it up to the age of 42. As Jane and Jessica are both 34 they are equally eligible for treatment although the fact Jessica’s partner is 45 may have been taken into consideration.
Factors taken into account when referring straight couples for fertility treatment include the man’s age, whether or not the couple already have children together and one or both of the couple giving up smoking. In Jane’s case, the fact Eric is 30, they do not have children together and they both gave up smoking two years ago worked in their favour.
Legally NHS trusts must not discriminate against same-sex couples wanting fertility treatment, but discrimination is hard to prove. Even if Jane and Jessica lived in the same borough, the NHS trust could claim they had been referred for different treatments and their cases were different.
Public opinion on fertility treatment for same-sex couples is divided. Many people are for it but the right-wing view is that same-sex couples should never be offered treatment on the NHS as they would not be able to conceive naturally. Jessica and Rebecca are yet another example of the sense of “entitlement” gay couples feel towards receiving equal rights.
Surely if this is the case, Jane and Eric should also not have been offered treatment. After all they were unable to conceive naturally?
Another right-wing view is that fertility treatment should be based on the parents’ National Insurance contributions and only those people who have contributed a sufficient amount to the tax “pot” should be eligible. Jessica and Rebecca do not earn a great deal but they have paid their taxes all their adult lives. Jane earns more than Jessica and has also paid her taxes but as Eric is unemployed he has not contributed to the public purse. Which couple is more “deserving” in this case?
What happened next for Jane and Jessica?
Jane and Jessica are fictional characters but their story is based on real-life scenarios and it is up to the voting public to decide their fate. It was a Labour Government that passed the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act in 2008 which put same-sex parenting and heterosexual parenting on equal footing in the eyes of the law. The persistent homophobia displayed by some members of the Conservative party, highlighted by the Tory opposition to the gay marriage bill, does not inspire hope for couples such as Jessica and Rebecca being offered fertility treatment on the NHS and funding is being reduced under the existing Government.
In a happy ending, Jane decided against having a child with Eric and focussed on re-building her relationship with her existing children. Jessica appealed to Petalbury’s NHS trust and its decision was overturned, meaning Jessica and Rebecca were able to start their own family.
Sadly, a more realistic outcome is that Jane had a child with Eric after three expensive cycles of NHS-funded IVF treatment but this did not mend their relationship. The child ended up being taken into local authority care and fostered by Jessica and Rebecca, the cost of which ran into hundreds of thousands of pounds.
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