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Radio Review: Thinking Allowed - 'New' Biological Relatives and Kinship

30 June 2014

By Ari Haque

Appeared in BioNews 760

Thinking Allowed: 'New' Biological Relatives and Kinship

BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 11 June 2014

Presented by Jane Hill

'Thinking Allowed: 'New' Biological Relatives and Kinship', BBC Radio 4, Wednesday 11 June 2014


In the second half of this edition of Thinking Allowed, Laurie Taylor discusses the impact of IVF and other technologies on kinship with Sarah Franklin and Henrietta Moore.

This is one of the main strands of Franklin's book, 'Biological Relatives: IVF, Stem Cells, and the Future of Kinship'. Yet the theme of kinship is not explored in detail during the show. Instead, the speakers skirt around the topic and set the scene without going any further.

Much of the discussion is around the significance and changing attitudes towards IVF within society without really honing in on kinship. There's a lot of chat about how familiar people are or aren't with concepts brought about with the advent of IVF. Moore says that terms such as 'surrogate' and 'egg donor' have become commonplace. But Taylor inadvertently makes the opposite point during the intro where she describes the process of IVF in detail and effectively draws attention to how the average person's knowledge of IVF falls way short of anyone who has been through the process.

In her work, Franklin, an anthropologist, questions why people undertake IVF. The listener will probably be echoing Taylor's answer - surely they do so to reproduce. Franklin's rebuttal, relating to the slim chances of conceiving using IVF in the 1980s, is not entirely convincing. The simpler answer still gets my vote.

Of course, Franklin's point, expanded by Moore, about the significance of parenthood and its relation to personal identity is the really interesting discussion. Nevertheless, this seems to be an answer to why people want to have children rather than why they elect to undertake IVF.

Franklin and Moore's exploration of how reproduction has always been a planned, methodical pursuit may surprise. However, once pointed out, it seems obvious. Moore articulates their conclusion from this well: distrust of IVF is not to do with the natural / artificial distinction but instead with the perception that reproduction should be linked to something 'divine'.

Overall, the programme made some interesting points but lacked a clear focus. It would have been good to hear more about how attitudes towards kinship and biological relatives have changed and how much can be attributed to the arrival of IVF. The programme missed this opportunity and spent too much time reiterating old ideas as context.

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