Religion, Infertility and Infertility Treatment




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Peer reviewed


Infertility is a common medical condition. An estimated 9% of women between the ages of 20 and 44 experience infertility, which equates to over 70 million women worldwide. However, infertility is more than a medical condition. For many people, especially in strongly pro-natalist cultures, involuntary childlessness is a highly stigmatised social status, with significant effects on the lives of women and men. The inability to conceive has been documented in an extensive collection of studies as an experience that has a profound influence on well-being. Guilt, helplessness, depression and marital stress are commonly reported, particularly for women. In many cultures, parenthood (and especially motherhood) is highly desired and is seen as a natural consequence of marriage. Voluntary childlessness is virtually unknown. Thus the desire for children is confirmed as a social expectation and a deeply held personal need. Failure to conceive (and in some cases, failure to give birth to a male child) may have significant consequences for women in particular, though men too do not entirely escape the stigma of infertility and recent work also highlights the negative impact of infertility on men’s social and psychological functioning.

While there are many commentaries which discuss the issue of infertility within specific religious ideologies, such as Islam, Judaism or some forms of Christianity, there are fewer empirical studies which explore people’s perceptions of infertility and assisted conception technologies or the lived experience of infertility among faith groups, especially in the context of high resource countries in the West.

This paper draws on two related research projects which explore cultural and religious aspects of infertility and assisted conception in British South Asian communities. It discusses how Islam in particular impacts on community understandings of fertility and childlessness and considers how Muslim communities in the UK perceive assisted reproductive technologies. In particular, the issue of third party assisted conception is one which has raised particular concerns for Muslims in the UK and worldwide, with a variety of extant interpretations regarding the religious acceptability of egg and sperm donation. The paper discusses data from focus groups and face to face interviews with British Muslims of Bangladeshi and Pakistani ethnic origin. This qualitative research explores the public perceptions of childlessness, fertility treatment and gamete donation. The paper discusses how religion impacts on the ways in which people make sense of infertility, attitudes to childless couples and views of infertility treatment options. Religion is seen to play a role in the desire for children, in the aetiology of infertility, in negotiating infertility and in attitudes to assisted conception technologies. The paper also outlines how religion can influence the seeking of alternatives to bio-medical ‘solutions’ to involuntary childlessness. Healthcare professionals are not always sensitive to the issues which arise for Muslim patients in negotiating infertility and accessing treatment and the paper calls for an approach to care which recognises and respects cultural and religious diversity.



religion, infertility, South Asian, assistend conception, Muslim, Islam


Culley, L., Hudson, N. and Norton, W. (2013) Religion, Infertility and Infertility Treatment. The 2nd Annual Conference on Medicine and Religion, University of Chicago, Chicage, 28-30 May 2013.


Research Institute

Centre for Reproduction Research (CRR)