God's Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes

God's Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes

God's Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes

God's Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes

Synopsis

Assisted reproduction, with its test tubes, injections, and gamete donors, raises concerns about the nature of life and kinship. Yet these concerns do not take the same shape around the world. In this innovative ethnography of in vitro fertilization in Ecuador, Elizabeth F.S. Roberts explores how reproduction by way of biotechnological assistance is not only accepted but embraced despite widespread poverty and condemnation from the Catholic Church. Roberts' intimate portrait of IVF practitioners and their patients reveals how technological intervention is folded into an Andean understanding of reproduction as always assisted, whether through kin or God. She argues that the Ecuadorian incarnation of reproductive technology is less about a national desire for modernity than it is a product of colonial racial history, Catholic practice, and kinship configurations. God's Laboratory offers a grounded introduction to critical debates in medical anthropology and science studies, as well as a nuanced ethnography of the interplay between science, religion, race and history in the formation of Andean families.

Excerpt

On November 3,2002, the volcano Reventador erupted, dumping tons of ash over northern Ecuador, including the capital city of Quito. the world shut down for days. the streets were empty except for the piles of ash. Eventually, the cleanup crews emerged—manual laborers with push brooms. Still, ash covered everything for weeks: trees, cars, the corn patches in empty lots, the forever-barking dogs, the stoic llamas, the crevices of our necks, and the slits of our eyes. the airport was closed for nearly two weeks. No matter how carefully we swept the entryways or arranged towels on window sills, the ash left a fine grit on every surface and every pore.

Ash also seeped in through the air vents of the in vitro fertilization (IVF) clinics in Quito where I was observing and working. the morning after the eruption, I went into Dr. Molina’s clinic, the biggest in Ecuador, to watch an embryo transfer. Even though I changed into scrubs, surgical mask, hat, gloves, and booties, and no matter how many times I washed my hands and wiped my shoes, I couldn’t get the ash off of me. Though it was hard to see, the ash crept into the laboratories— into the incubators and the petri dishes used to maintain harvested eggs and sperm. Most devastating, the ash contaminated several cycles’ worth of embryos that had been readied for transplant back into the wombs of patients. None of those procedures resulted in pregnancy.

For the next few weeks, laboratory biologists at ivf clinics throughout Quito mulled over the damage most likely caused by the ash. How different would it . . .

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