Bioethics News

Should students learn about declining fertility?

Is this a straw in the wind? After decades of educating students in the fine art of suppressing their fertility, the British Fertility Society sponsored a seminar this week about the controversial notion of teaching high school students about preserving it.

This was a concern of the late Lisa Jardine, the former head of the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Authority, the UK’s fertility watchdog. She once said:

If one in seven of us in the modern world is going to have problems with infertility then instead of all the teaching at school being about how to stop getting pregnant someone had better start teaching about how you do get pregnant, because there are going to be a lot of extremely disappointed people out there.

At the moment, British schools are obliged to refer to Sex and Relationship Education Guidance, a Government document which has not been updated since its publication in 2000.

The only reference to fertility in the 2000 guidance is to “some medical uses of hormones, including the control and promotion of fertility”. The organisers of the seminar pointed out that the topic of fertility decline with age is “Conspicuous by its absence”.  

Mentioning the topic of declining fertility is surprisingly controversial — partly because of political arguments over sex education in schools. But there are also different ideas about whether a policy priority of avoiding teenage pregnancy clashes with teaching students how to preserve their fertility.

As well, some experts feel that discussion of fertility might add to pressure on women to have children early in life.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.