Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Medical Anthropology
Of interest to: Practicing and Applied Anthropologists
Primary Theme: Resilience
Secondary Theme: Technology
Third-party conception opens up new imaginings and categories of kinship and/or relatedness that may or may not go beyond two-parent conceptualizations, or may involve non-parenting relationships. Western kinship is notoriously resistant to acknowledging more than two adults simultaneously as parents of a child, in any sense. But new ways of practicing family may in fact include additional persons understood to be a kind of “parent”: from the legal recognition of multi-parental families in the US, Canada, Brazil, and the Netherlands, to families’ recognition of biological or genetic “parents” for their children born through reproductive donation or surrogacy, or donors’ understanding of the children born through their donations as their children, in some way at least.
Empirical findings about egg donation, sperm donation and gestational surrogacy can provide profound anthropological insights into cultural meanings of family. Biogenetic connections consistently evoke some kind of kinship (Edwards 2009; Bestard 2009; Melhuus 2009), yet participants in new reproductive technologies also draw on a range of cultural meanings to make sense of assisted practices and the relationships they entail or give rise to.
The concept of children’s rights to know their origins—which has transformed adoption practice and influences debates surrounding a child’s right to know they were conceived through gamete donation and surrogacy (Cubillos, Medina and Konvalinka 2017)—also influences people’s willingness to include third parties as additional parents or other kin in their children’s lives. Donor conception brings to the fore an array of imaginings, from intended parents choosing donors from donor profiles, to donors’ thoughts about genetic material and children born from it, to donor-conceived people’s fantasies about the people who helped create them.
The participants in this session will analyze ethnographic fieldwork to explore the myriad ways people think about assisted reproductive technologies and the relationships created through them. The perspectives of donors and donor-conceived children and how they think about biological connection and meanings of family will also be addressed. We highlight resilience in the concept of family, that is, its “capacity to recover quickly from difficulties,” its “toughness,” its “elasticity” or “ability…to spring back into shape,” following definitions in the Oxford Dictionary (https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/resilience ).
The panel asks the following questions: How do people imagine or avoid considering third-party donor or surrogate kinship or relatedness in the families formed through reproductive donation and surrogacy? How do donor anonymity or non-anonymity play into these imaginations? Does kinship practice fulfill or fall short of what parents, children, donors, and surrogates hope or imagine? How do third-party arrangements lead to new or possibly reinforce existing conceptualizations of what family is? Ultimately, this panel gets at the core of anthropological debates surrounding social and biological meanings and nature/nurture debates.