Toward a gender-sensitive assisted reproduction policy

Bioethics 23 (1):28-38 (2009)
Abstract
The recent case of the UK woman who lost her legal struggle to be impregnated with her own frozen embryos, raises critical issues about the meaning of reproductive autonomy and the scope of regulatory practices. I revisit this case within the context of contemporary debate about the moral and legal dimensions of assisted reproduction. I argue that the gender neutral context that frames discussion of regulatory practices is unjust unless it gives appropriate consideration to the different positions women and men occupy in relation to reproductive processes and their options for autonomous choice. First, I consider relevant legal rulings, media debate, and scholarly commentary. Then I discuss the concept of reproductive autonomy imbedded in this debate. I argue that this concept conflates informed consent and reproductive autonomy, thereby providing an excessively narrow reading of autonomy that fails to give due regard to relations among individuals or the social, political and economic environment that shapes their options. I contrast this notion of autonomy with feminist formulations that seek to preserve respect for the agency of individuals without severing them from the conditions of their embodiment, their surrounding social relationships, or the political contexts that shape their options. Taking these considerations into account I weigh the advantages of regulation over the commercial market arrangement that prevails in some countries and suggest general guidelines for a regulatory policy that would more equitably resolve conflicting claims to reproductive autonomy.
Keywords Natalie Evans  assisted reproduction  Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority  gender  feminist bioethics  reproductive autonomy
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