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Fertility clinics report number of 'virgin births'

5 October 2015
Appeared in BioNews 822

Single women in the UK who have never had sex are using IVF to have 'virgin births', reports the Mail on Sunday.

Four major fertility clinics have admitted assisting women in such cases, with doctors suggesting that at least 25 heterosexual women had given birth in the past five years, despite never having had sexual relationships.

Dr Maha Ragunath, medical director of CARE Fertility Nottingham, told the newspaper that the number of single women she sees has 'doubled over the last decade', and single women now account for 'at least ten percent of her patients'.

'A lot of them are very young, in their 20s, sometimes studying or doing very ordinary jobs and often living with their parents, rather than career women who have been driven and focused too much on their work,' said Dr Ragunath.

'When I ask them why they are coming for treatment, very often the response is that they are ready to have a child and they don't want to wait around for the right partner to come along,' she said.

Dr Ragunath further explained that a small percentage of these women have never been in a relationship and have never had sexual intercourse, but yet 'they are extremely happy to go ahead on their own and don't care about the implications that might bring for the child or how they would go into a new relationship'.

However, the decision to provide fertility treatment in cases like these was criticised by some religious groups and others, who claimed it undermined the importance of bringing up children in stable marriages. Psychotherapists also questioned whether children would be damaged by being brought up by mothers who had never had a relationship.

'What is the child for these women? A teddy bear that they pick off the shelf?' said Josephine Quintavalle from the group Comment on Reproductive Ethics.

She added: 'The message from nature is for a male and female to have a child, and I am saddened that we are willing to distort this. The diminished role of the father is not desirable for the child. Once you start down this route, where do you stop?'

On the other hand, Professor Adam Balen, chair of The British Fertility Society, rejected the idea that 'virgin births' were 'not desirable for the child'. He told the Huffington Post that some women who wished to have children were either single or in same-sex relationships and that 'there is good evidence that children conceived with donated sperm fare well during childhood and later life without any specific concerns or problems'.

Clinics stress that careful screening and counselling should be carried out before treatments, so patients understand the process and implications of using donor sperm. The treatment of such cases is not available through the NHS as women must have been trying to get pregnant through regular unprotected sexual intercourse for two years before applying.

The fertility clinics said to have helped women who have not had sex conceive include: CARE Fertility, The London Women's Clinic, Create Fertility, and the Assisted Reproduction and Gynaecology Centre.

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