Alexandra S. Kurlenkova

Institute of Ethnology and Anthropology RAS, Moscow

Articles. Research

The author challenges the language of donation that became common in describing practices of exchange of female reproductive cells in the texts of laws, professional ethical recommendations, habitual speech of doctors and patients. Transfer of gametes from one person to another is compared to transplantation of somatic cells and tissues. Development of transplantology and reproductive medicine required and keep on requiring a constant flow of biological materials from healthy individuals not interested in transplantation procedure (or embryo implantation) to the sick in need of treatment (infertility therapy). The language of donation, solidarity, altruism became a sort of glue piecing together these bricks. This allowed, on the one hand, to legitimize practices of human biological materials exchange, and, on the other, to prevent the latter from rolling off to the realm of the profane, objectified, impersonal — the process resisted by core western cultural intuitions. Using the data from a multi-site European survey, several in-depth interviews with egg donors from different regions, as well as observations I did in a Moscow fertility clinic in 2010‑2011, we show a spectrum of meanings attributed by women-donors to their actions: from empathy and solving psychological problems to earning money. Analysis of these motivations, together with analysis of legislature (first of all, Russian and British), allows us to see that donation practices are produced by fields of forces that vary greatly among different countries. In the end we combine two levels of analysis — language and practices — to show that the language of donation is largely outdated to properly describe real state of things, to solve the issues that he was created to tackle.

Keywords: egg donation, assisted reproductive technologies, IVF, organ and tissue transplantation, gift theories, commodification of human organs and tissues, medical tourism

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