Magazine article Herizons

The New Reproductive Technologies: Where Do Women Stand?

Magazine article Herizons

The New Reproductive Technologies: Where Do Women Stand?

Article excerpt



The very idea of new reproductive technologies conjures up irresistible images: miracle cures, benevolent scientists in crisp lab coats, increased choice for women, and the creation of new life all coming together for the advancement of the human race. For people unable to conceive or carry a pregnancy to term, and for single women and lesbians, the carrot is more than a mere phallus or symbol of fertility. It entices with the hope of life, in some instances that last chance to bear a child, a chance that is, for some, worth taking at almost any cost.

And there's the rub. As feminists, we know that when scientific tinkering involves women's reproductive lives, we've got reason to worry. Usually dangerous, more often than not used to control under-privileged groups of women, never controlled by women, and most often with side effects that wouldn't be tolerated for men or lab rats, the old reproductive technologies still haven't given us what we wanted: safe birth control; access to abortion; woman-centred birthing; protection from sexually transmitted diseases and the social conditions necessary to raise happy children.

What they've given us instead are dangerous drugs like Depo-Provera; an epidemic of unnecessary but profitable hysterectomies; dangerous, interventionist birthing practices; the forced use of the contraceptive Norplant (in the U.S.) and stumbling blocks that are put up to prevent us from having reproductive choice if we seek to terminate unplanned pregnancies.

With the release of the final report of The Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies, we are forced to deal with procedures, experiments and therapies that could potentially help some women, and also offer the potential means of human exploitation, the likes of which we haven't even dreamed.

The creation of a metaphoric Frankenstein, says Gwynne Basen, co-editor of the recently released Misconceptions: The Social Construction of Choice and the New Reproductive and Genetic Technologies, is a mixture of fear and fascination. "The idea of a man-made man has always captivated the imagination. By introducing the figure of the scientist as an agent of creation into the public imagination, Mary Shelley cast a visionary glance into the future and in the process created a modern myth," surmizes Basen in the aptly-titled volume (Volume 2 is forthcoming).

The NRTs, as the new reproductive technologies are called, most likely aren't all good or all bad; however, they are on a continuum on which women, as producers of human life, take more of a back seat as suppliers of the means of reproduction. Who is in control? Are NRTs a cautionary tale of eugenics, of profiting in human reproduction, of genetic altering, fetal experimentation and corporate profitability unleashed? Or is there a middle ground to be found between the values of multi-national drug companies, the medical system and patriarchal values?

The Baird Commission

Like it or not, the federal government spent $28 million to lay the groundwork for expanding experimentation and business opportunities in the only area where women have had a virtual monopoly for the last 30 million years or so: the creation of life. It is important that whether we are in favour of in-vitro fertilization, transferring zygotes between women or freezing eggs now to grow later, we have to keep reminding ourselves that assisted conception experiments rarely result in pregnancies and even more rarely result in babies. They are experimental, extremely costly, have serious side effects, including high rates of ectopic pregnancies which can rupture any healthy fallopian tubes a woman may still have. …

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