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Issues of gender in gamete donation

Lookup NU author(s): Emerita Professor Erica Haimes


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Gamete donation refers to the practice whereby either semen or eggs are donated by a third party to enable infertile individuals or couples to become parents. This paper examines the way in which gender is deployed as a resource for organizing the Meanings attached to that practice. The gender aspects of gamete donation are not always immediately apparent since semen and egg donation are often described as being essentially the same. However, a closer examination indicates that behind the claim of equivalence lies a wt of unstated assumptions about their difference. These assumptions are tied to ideas about the ways in which men and women are thought to behave more generally in relation to reproduction and the family. This paper draws on two sources of empirical data to reveal how these assumptions are used: first, data from a detailed analysis of the Warnock Report (established by the British Government in 1982 to inquire into and make recommendations on techniques of human fertilization and embryology), which includes a cross-national and historical comparison with other government reports; second, data from a series of in-depth interviews with members of the Warnock Committee. The analysis of the reports suggests that historically semen donation was associated with 'deviant' sexuality (masturbation, adultery, illegitimacy) though paradoxically the extant nature of semen donation was then used to justify the acceptance of egg donation in later reports. This is despite the fact that in these later reports there are clear, albeit implicit, distinctions drawn between the two procedures in terms of donor motivation, the risks of being a donor, and the consequences of donation. These differences were more marked in the interview data. Committee members regarded egg donors as being very altruistic, whereas they frequently raised doubts about the motivations of semen donors. It is suggested in the discussion section of the paper that assumptions about gender and reproduction lead to egg donation being seen in a familial, clinical and asexual context whereas semen donation is seen in an individualistic, unregulated context of dubious sexual connotations. Therefore whilst assisted reproduction provides the chance to challenge gender assumptions, what we find instead is that the everyday reasoning practices of those involved in these policy discussions leads to a reinforcing of such views.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Haimes E

Publication type: Article

Publication status: Published

Journal: Social Science & Medicine

Year: 1993

Volume: 36

Issue: 1

Pages: 85-93

Print publication date: 01/01/1993

ISSN (print): 0277-9536

ISSN (electronic): 1873-5347

Publisher: Pergamon


DOI: 10.1016/0277-9536(93)90308-Q


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