Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Construction of Technologically-Mediated Families

Academic journal article Journal of Comparative Family Studies

The Construction of Technologically-Mediated Families

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION The professed purpose of most of the New Reproductive and Genetic Technologies (NRGTs) is to provide help for the infertile, that is, to facilitate family formation for a segment of the population that is depicted as otherwise incapable of doing so. One would suppose, then, that a family perspective would be one of those well represented in the various debates surrounding the NRGTs. The fact that 1994 was the International Year of the Family, and that the NRGTs are arguably the most important thing that has affected families in the recent past, would seem to push this connection even more into the foreground. This is not so in a double sense; those interested in the NRGTs usually fail to adopt a family perspective, while students of the family customarily (with a few exceptions) fail to consider the NRGTs.'

The NRGTs are considered from a wide range of perspectives: besides the medical literature, there are legal perspectives (Law Reform Commission of Canada, 1989 and 1992; Martin, 1993; Ontario Law Reform Commission, 1985), woman-centered approaches (e.g. Arditti, Klein afld Minden, 1984; Basen, Eichler and Lippman, 1993; Corea, 1985; Klein, 1993; Quebec, 1988; Raymond, 1993; Rowland, 1992; Spallone and Steinberg, 1987; Stanworth, 1987), human rights oriented approaches (Eichler, 1993), ethical perspectives (Council for Science and Society,1984; Walters and Singer,1982), philosophical approaches (Overall,1987, 1989; Sherwin, 1994) and others, yet very rarely is a family perspective applied. This leads to some curious blind spots in the various evaluations of the technologies and their associated consequences.

By the same token, very few students of the family have integrated the NRGTs into their concerns, thus failing to grapple with the single most startling and revolutionary set of challenges confronting families today. Many countries have, in the past few years, established various types of Commissions to examine the impact of these technologies. This is not the space to review the totality of these efforts, except to mention that the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies set up by Canada in 1989 was the Commission with the most encompassing mandate,2 and the largest budget. It therefore provides an appropriate case study for examining how the relationship between the NRGTs and family issues is formulated.

The Commission, which tabled its report in late 1993, had a scandal-ridden life.3 This paper, however, is not about the history of the Commission. This has been dealt with elsewhere (Anonymous 1-6. 1993; Eichler, 1993; Massey, 1993; Statement of Claim, 1993; Vandelac, 1993). Here, the report is simply taken as a public policy document and analyzed from one particular perspective.


In order to conduct this analysis, the following method was employed: First, I summarized all the recommendations of the Commission. Second, I drew out all those recommendations which had a close bearing on family formation. Third, I drew out all the rationales that were provided for the various recommendations. Fourth, I then addressed the following questions to the materials: In what instances are family reasons invoked in their rationales, in what instances are other principles invoked? What is the Commission's general stance on family issues? What types of family formation are prohibited, what types are permitted? How do these issues relate to each other? Lastly, fifth, I asked what types of family formation would be permitted or prohibited if we were to adopt a family perspective towards the NRGTs? This paper reports on the last two steps of the analysis, working backwards from step 5 to step 4.

It must be noted that the entry point into the Report was through the recommendations, not through the text. There are considerable differences between the issues that are raised in the text and those which find expression in the recommendations. For instance, there is an entire chapter on adoption, but only one weak recommendation suggesting that the matter be studied further. …

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