But now in dramatic move the World Health Organisation will change the standard to suggest that a person who is unable to find a suitable sexual partner or is lacking a sexual relationship to have children – will now be equally classified as disabled.
WHO says the change will give every individual “the right to reproduce”.
Under the new rules, heterosexual single men and women and gay men and women who want to have children will now be given the same priority as a couple seeking IVF because of medical fertility problems.
But critics branded the new laws as “absurd nonsense” arguing that the organisation has overstepped the mark by moving into social matters rather than health.
Gareth Johnson MP, former chair of the All Parliamentary Group on Infertility, whose own children were born thanks to fertility treatment, said: “I’m in general a supporter of IVF. But I’ve never regarded infertility as a disability or a disease but rather a medical matter.
“I’m the first to say you should have more availability of IVF to infertile couples but we need to ensure this whole subject retains credibility.
“This definition runs the risk of undermining the work Nice and others have done to ensure IVF treatment is made available for infertile couples when you get definitions off the mark like this. I think it’s trying to put IVF into a box that it doesn’t fit into frankly.”
Josephine Quintavalle,from Comment on Reproductive Ethics added: “This absurd nonsense is not simply re-defining infertility but completely side-lining the biological process and significance of natural intercourse between a man and a woman.
“How long before babies are created and grown on request completely in the lab?”
But Dr David Adamson, an author of the new standards, argued it is a “big chance” for single and gay people.
He said: “The definition of infertility is now written in such a way that it includes the rights of all individuals to have a family, and that includes single men, single women, gay men, gay women.
“It puts a stake in the ground and says an individual’s got a right to reproduce whether or not they have a partner. It’s a big change.
“It fundamentally alters who should be included in this group and who should have access to healthcare. It sets an international legal standard. Countries are bound by it.”
A spokesman for the Department of Health said the NHS was under no obligation to follow World Health Organisation’s final advice.
Under the Equality Act 2010 a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on their ability to do normal daily activities.
But Libby Purves, presenter of Radio 4’s Midweek, was scathing about the new recommendation.
She said: “When a flaky new human right is suddenly tossed out by a serious UN agency it is not just silly but dangerous.
“The World Health Organisation, which has plenty else on its plate, has long defined infertility as a disability.
“It is sad but not disabled compared to someone who is blind, deaf, mentally impaired, or seriously crippled.”