Infertility and Assisted Reproduction from the Development of in vitro Fertilization to the Present: Medicine, Culture, Policy, and Practice

Award Year:
Margaret Marsh, Wanda Ronner
Women's Health, History of Medicine and Health Care
The United States, as virtually the only developed nation with no national policy on assisted reproduction, has been called the “wild west” of reproductive medicine. For forty years now, the federal government has refused to fund, regulate, prohibit or approve reproductive technologies or practices such as in vitro fertilization, sperm, egg and embryo donation, or the use of gestational carriers and surrogates. Societal conflicts involving reproductive technology have been so deep and divisive that the nation, unable to find common ground, has by default agreed to let the market determine access to these services. How and why did this state of affairs develop? What have been its effects on potential parents, gamete donors and surrogates, researchers, practitioners, and the larger society? And what might be done to change the situation? These questions lie at the heart of this project. We address these questions in the following ways: 1) by offering a comprehensive historical perspective of the changing dimensions of infertility treatment and the unprecedented ways by which families can be produced with the new reproductive technologies; 2) by illuminating the larger societal forces that bear on patients, practitioners, gamete donors, gestational surrogates, insurance providers, legislators and others involved in reproductive decision-making; 3) by exploring how reproductive research and practice have both shaped and been shaped by changes in medical practice, family life, gender roles, marriage, socioeconomic class, and race; and 4) by using these findings as a basis for making recommendations on policy and practice. During the three year period of the grant we intend to complete a book addressed to a broad audience of policy-makers, legislators, medical practitioners, potential patients, and the public. We also plan to create a project website, deliver papers and lectures to a variety of professional and public bodies, and produce articles to be submitted to scholarly journals.