Bio-Sociality and the Negotiation of Diagnosis in Cross-Border Infertility Treatment

Monday, July 14, 2014: 7:10 PM
Room: F205
Distributed Paper
Nicky HUDSON , Applied Social Sciences, De Montfort University, Leicester, United Kingdom
Lorraine CULLEY , Health and Life Sciences, De Montfort University, United Kingdom
Wendy NORTON , De Montfort University, United Kingdom
The expansion and globalisation of medical technologies for the ‘treatment’ of infertility has taken place at a rapid rate. Solutions to an increasing range of fertility-related concerns (chromosomally abnormal gametes and embryos, immunological disorders, reduced ovarian function) have been marketed to an affluent, engaged, mobile and technologically literate patient group. The apparent increase in what has been referred to in the popular media as ‘reproductive tourism’ is one product of the ever-expanding field of medical possibilities offered by ARTs (assisted reproductive technologies).

Recently expressed concerns about patients who travel overseas for fertility treatment have helped to embed the notion of the ‘fertility tourist’ in the public imagination. The categorization of this group has seen them variously constructed in the media as selfish, vulnerable, irresponsible, or desperate. Outside of sensationalist media reporting, little is currently known about the motivations or experiences of those who seek infertility treatment across international borders. Drawing on findings from the first UK study on this issue, which specifically addresses this absence in our understanding, this paper presents patients’ accounts of the demands and dilemmas involved in seeking a medical solution to unwanted childlessness across international borders. 

The paper specifically explores the use of online networks and support communities, a form of technologically mediated bio-sociality, in the development of biomedical literacy in relation to infertility. Reproductive travellers described active participation in the production of a ‘diagnosis’ in relation to their infertility which was achieved via virtual networking with other patients and direct negotiation with fertility experts. Shared virtual identities, connections and allegiances positioned users of overseas fertility clinics as a ‘biosocial collectivity’ (Rose & Novas 2003) which enabled them to navigate the global ART landscape and to seek resolution to their fertility quests.