Childless couples left helpless by govt apathy, religious misconceptions

Childless couples left helpless by govt apathy, religious misconceptions
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To those whom God denies a child, God allows IVF, says Grand Mufti of Kashmir

SRINAGAR: Lack of IVF facilities in government-run hospitals has added to the problems of childless couples in Kashmir, a region that has one of the highest percentages of childless couples in India. IVF (in-vitro fertility) treatment is almost exclusively offered in private clinics or hospitals, but this is limited to those who can afford it.
A section of childless couples does not prefer IVF treatment because they consider it “prohibited” by religion. Abdul Rasheed, who is in his late fifties and has been married for more than two decades, is one such husband who has imposed his idea of not having a child through IVF on his wife. He lives with his wife and a divorced sister. His brother lives separately from his family. His three other sisters are married, and one of them is also childless.
“I will never allow my wife to go through this procedure because it is haram (prohibited) in Islam. Being alone is better than conceiving a child through IVF, which is equal to adultery. God has chosen us to be without children. Who are we to challenge his will?” Rasheed says.
Rasheed does not know that IVF treatment is an assisted reproduction technique, in which fertilisation of the egg occurs outside the womb in a Petri-dish. Nor does he know that it is the husband’s sperm and the wife’s egg which is fertilised together in a vitro (glass) dish, and after fertilisation the resulting embryo is transferred into the uterus of the wife. Rasheed thinks that a surrogate sperm, of another man, will be injected into the womb of his wife and that will result in the birth of a baby. This he has heard from the cleric of a local mosque, who is a science graduate. Locals have accepted the scientific cleric’s word as gospel truth.
Jammu and Kashmir’s Grand Mufti and vice-chairman of the State Muslim Personal Board, Nasir-ul-Islam, admits that unscientific or partial information has led to bad decision-making among couples. He believes that a lot of misconceptions in Muslim-majority regions arise due to the sermons of less-qualified and self-important Imans (mosque heads). He says that for any person to become Iman, he should be familiar with science and with events happening in the world.
“In Islam, only the surrogating process of fertilisation is prohibited, not the rest, because the former is considered as adultery. Any couple who wants to address childlessness can take the allowed form of IVF, or other medical procedure, subject to the fact that both sperm and egg should come from the married couple only,” Islam told Kashmir Reader.
“In case the process does not result in procreation, the couple can adopt a child, but this happens rarely,” he said.
Fertility consultant and Reproductive Medicine specialist at Gynaeeworld Fertility Centre Mumbai, Dr Sabahat Rasool, says that only 1% of infertile couples in India seek fertility treatment. This, she writes in her article on infertility in Kashmir, may be attributed to low awareness, accessibility, high cost, and unacceptability.
One reason for this in Kashmir is the lack of options. Many couples who wish to have IVF are hampered by the lack of this facility in government-run hospitals, which otherwise are the backbone of healthcare in the state. A large section of society cannot afford IVF treatment in private hospitals, where the costs begin from Rs 2 lakh and keep going up.
Of married couples in J&K, 8.7 percent are childless, surveys have found. One of such couples is Gulraiz and Afshana, both in their early 30s. They have been married more than five years but are still waiting for a child. They are willing to have IVF but they cannot afford private hospitals. Gulraiz has been told by a doctor that he has low sperm count, but IVF treatment can help him become a parent.
A resident of Srinagar, Gulraiz runs a shop in the old city that fetches him between Rs 10 thousand and Rs 15 thousand a month. This he has to spend on his five-member family, which includes his parents and sister. He has no savings. The financial situation is so bad that in case of emergency, he has to borrow money from his friends. He repays them by cutting down on his basic standard of living. The last time he borrowed money was Rs 50,000 for the marriage of his sister. A friend gave it to him. He repaid it in two years, by not buying mutton which he used to eat twice a week.
“At the government hospital I was told that the treatment is not possible, that I have to visit a private one. The cost of it dissuaded me,” Gulraiz told Kashmir Reader.
Principal of Government Medical College (GMC) Srinagar, Dr Samiya Rashid, admitted that IVF treatment was not available in government hospitals. But, she said, there are other ways of treatment. She said that government hospitals can treat patients whose childlessness is due to seizure in the Fallopian tube.
Dr Samiya Rashid said that she had written a proposal to the government to make IVF facility available in government hospitals. At present, she said, for IVF a patient has to go to a private hospital.
According to a study carried out in 2008 by the Department of Endocrinology at Sher-i-Kashmir Institute of Medical Sciences (SKIMS), 15.7 percent of women in Kashmir who are currently of child-bearing age will never have a child without clinical intervention.
Beyond the physical and mental exhaustion, childlessness leads to marital discords and divorces. Grand Mufti Nasir-ul-Islam, who also hears cases of marital discord under Islamic jurisprudence, says he is witness to the end of many marriages due to childlessness. “Men always blame women for it, which is not the case all the time,” he said.
“Women are blamed to protect men’s respect in society. I have seen men medically not fit, yet blaming women. To put an end to this menace, one should marry at an early age. In case there are medical issues, all permitted medical procedures should be exhausted. If they, too, fail, adoption is best. A couple should accept it as the will of God,” suggested the Grand Mufti.