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Book Review: Reprogen-Ethics and the Future of Gender

18 July 2011

By Dr Malcolm Smith

Lecturer at the School of Law, Queensland University of Technology

Appeared in BioNews 616

Reprogen-Ethics and the Future of Gender

Edited by Dr Frida Simonstein

Published by Springer Verlag

ISBN-10: 9048124743, ISBN-13: 978-9048124749

Buy this book from Amazon UK

'Reprogen-Ethics and the Future of Gender' edited by Dr Frida Simonstein


This edited essay collection tackles the ethics of reprogenetics; the intersection of reproductive and genetic technologies. The essays cover the role of gender in reprogenetics and the overlap between gender, assisted reproduction and genetic enhancement. The book is divided into five sections, each with several sub-chapters.

The first section outlines the science and regulation of assisted reproductive technology (ART). In chapter one, Dr Ariel Revel from the Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at Hadassah University Hospital, Jerusalem, gives an overview of ART techniques developed during the past 30 years. Although largely descriptive, this chapter lays the foundations for understanding the technology behind ART.

The next two chapters also consider developments in assisted conception techniques, but focus on reproductive liberty. Søren Holm, a professor of bioethics from the UK's University of Manchester, argues that - while the commercialisation of ART services has led to greater reproductive freedom - the reproductive sector has become 'medicalised'. As a result, regulations restricting the availability and accessibility of ART services are determined largely by fertility professionals.

Marleen Eijkholt – another bioethicist from the University of Manchester - also discusses reproductive freedom and formulates an argument for a right to procreate. Eijkholt distinguishes her argument from other rights-based approaches, which often focus on the outcome of reproduction.

Underpinning Eijkholt's argument is the capacity to procreate, not the right to have a child. But - despite her novel approach to this issue - it is difficult for a reader to completely disregard the interests of potential children. These children, she argues, are irrelevant to protecting the capacity to procreate.

The second part of the book considers how ART services are provided in different countries. Using empirical data, chapter four considers whether increases in procreative liberty have indirectly decreased the reproductive freedom of people in Israel and Bulgaria. The authors question whether the social expectation to have children imposes a burden on some women to pursue assisted conception at all costs.

This section also highlights inequalities in access to assisted conception techniques in developing countries (in chapter five) and the availability of ART in Latin America (chapter six).

The rest of the book considers gender and reproduction. In the third section, biomedical ethicist Dr Daniel Callahan discusses women in the workplace and the age when women should be encouraged to reproduce. He concludes women should be encouraged to have children earlier in life. But medical ethicist Dr Anna Smajdor argues the 'ideal' time for reproduction is a socially-constructed notion and older women should not be vilified for their reproductive choices.

Other highlights of the book include – in chapters 11 and 12 - ethical analyses of procreative beneficence and social sex selection. Tom Buller, a biomedical ethicist from the USA's University of Alaska, considers the responsibility of prospective parents to future generations by their reproductive choices. He considers whether there is a duty to act in the best interests of prospective offspring and how this applies to assisted conception.

On social sex selection, bioethicist David Heyd – a professor of philosophy from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem - distinguishes between the differing 'harm' objections concerning the potential child, prospective parents and society. He also discusses other people's arguments that consider sex selection inherently wrong.

The final sections of the book clearly link and explore in detail the overlap between gender and reproduction. For example, the fascinating prospect of the artificial womb and ectogenesis - developing an embryo to maturity outside the body. The ethical issues associated with such developments are discussed alongside the implications they would have on gender roles in reproduction.

One of this collection's main aims is to combine debates about gender and reproduction with issues surrounding reproductive technologies and genetic enhancement. But the link between these issues is not always explicit. Many sections of the book can be read without reference to the others. This is not a bad thing; there are high-quality, original contributions from authoritative commentators. The book will appeal to academics, ethicists, social scientists, policy makers, and fertility professionals.


Buy Reprogen-Ethics and the Future of Gender from Amazon UK.

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