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COVER INFERTILITY TREATMENT INSTEAD OF CONTRACEPTIVES

A recent column by Ellen Goodman took issue with health insurance companies that cover a "pro conception" drug such as Viagra for men, but not contraception for women.

Goodman claims women need health insurance coverage for contraception. But health care dollars would be better spent on a real health problem -- infertility.

Many women are devastated about their infertility. They are refused health coverage for certain reparative treatment. Meanwhile, $300 a year for oral contraceptives multiplied by the number of women on them will bankrupt the system. Couples with infertility ought to be considered for coverage first.

Coverage for Viagra vs. coverage for contraception may be a popular argument, yet it is one that does not adequately represent the reality facing many women and men today. This generation is striving for harmony between men and women, not the perpetuation of gender war.

Currently, one in five U.S. couples experiences infertility. As a health care professional, I work with these young couples, who have to pay out of pocket for many reparative treatments.

Clinically, Viagra is given mostly to older men whose wives are beyond fertility and who wish to perform better. It is more of a "pro performance" drug than it is a "pro conception" drug. If Viagra is used solely as a treatment for a legitimate medical necessity, it should be covered. On the other hand, contraceptives are not a medical necessity. To call fertility a pre-existing condition -- as Goodman did -- is cynical and trivializes the many real health problems of women.

Women can function without traditional contraceptives. Contraceptives are not required for conjugal love. There are cheaper, safer and effective alternatives for couples who choose to avoid or hope to achieve a pregnancy. Western New York alone boasts of at least four hospital-based Fertility Care Centers and two private offices where these alternatives are taught. Why -- with hospitals financially stressed, millions of people uninsured and medical people being laid off -- is there a request to spend money to "treat" healthy women?

A woman's unique ability to bear children is a gift. Just ask those thousands of women who are spending small fortunes in an effort to conceive.

People should receive a full disclosure of information. For example, men and women should be informed that there are alternative family-planning methods that are safe, effective, inexpensive and include male responsibility. The notion that fertility is solely a woman's responsibility should be antithetical to a feminist.

The exploding rates of sexually transmitted diseases and infertility demonstrate that the human body was not designed for casual sex, serial monogamy, infidelity or intentional disruption of an existing pregnancy. The body retaliates.

A woman's destiny is shaped by her ability to think critically, to embrace rather than reject her unique childbearing ability, to learn about fertility rather than blindly manipulate it, to accept that pregnancy is always a matter of probability regardless of birth control, to make decisions that exclude nonmarital sexual involvement and to face the reality that ignorance and the "quick fix" violates the dignity of man and woman alike.

BEVERLY SOTTILE-MALONA, R.N., lives in East Amherst.
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