Human Reproduction: Principles, Practices, Policies

By McDaniel, Susan A. | Journal of Comparative Family Studies, Autumn 1995 | Go to article overview

Human Reproduction: Principles, Practices, Policies


McDaniel, Susan A., Journal of Comparative Family Studies


OVERALL, Christine, HUMAN REPRODUCTION: Principles, Practices, Policies, Toronto, Ontario: Oxford University Press, 1993,174 pp. $16.95 softcover

SUSAN A. McDANIEL*

The news media confronts us routinely with new social and ethical challenges on the frontiers of human reproduction. In February 1994, it was the birth of twins to a 59 year old British woman. A few months earlier, it was the release in Canada of the long awaited report of the Royal Commission on the New Reproductive Technologies which advised that some interventions in reproduction, already done by profit-making organizations in the U.S., ought not to take the same course in Canada. Procreation is a public issue, as perhaps never before, and yet, understandings of the social and moral ramifications of these new approaches to reproduction lag far behind the technological possibilities. Christine Overall's book, Human Reproduction: Principles, Practices and Policies, provides a sensitive, analytical insight into these ramifications as well as offering a framework for analyzing the moral aspects of future reproductive technologies.

Overall's book is a series of essays written over a period of four years, from 1988 to 1992, following her earlier book, Ethics and Human Reproduction: A Feminist Analysis. Her self-identified theme in the new book is "exploration of the nature and conditions for women's reproductive autonomy and procreative freedom" (pp. 4-5). In nine thoughtful and highly engaging chapters, Overall reflects on the current political interpretations in Canada of the moral concepts of the right to reproduce and the right not to reproduce. She carries the dualism of these rights through chapters on mother/state/fetus conflicts, on selective termination in cases of multiple embryos, on disposition of aborted fetuses, on frozen embryos ("cryopreservation") and fathers' rights, on the moral dimensions of contract motherhood (two chapters), on social aspects of access to `in vitro' fertilization, and a last chapter on reproductive engineering written in response to a request to assess the prospects of new reproductive technologies for future historians.

The framework Overall develops for her analyses utilizes a balance between the right to reproduce and the right not to reproduce, which she clearly states are independent rights (p. 27). She then defines a weak right (a liberty right) and a strong right (a welfare right) to reproduce and not to reproduce in feminist theoretical terms. A weak right to reproduce would be, for example, the entitlement not to have coerced birth control or sterilization; a strong right to reproduce would be entitlement to access any and all reproductive tools and products available. …

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