The Medicalisation of Reproduction, Reproductive Timing and the Labor Market - the Israeli Experts’ Debate on Social Egg-Freezing

Saturday, 21 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Nitzan RIMON-ZARFATY, Department of Medical Ethics and History of Medicine, University Medical Center Göttingen (UMG), Germany
“Social egg freezing” (SEF) introduces healthy women with the possibility to prolong their fertility. The procedure may therefore be analyzed as a technological attempt to stop women's "biological clock" or "freeze time". Giant corporations such as Apple and Facebook offered funding of the procedure for their female employees; thus provoked ongoing debates on the social and ethical implications involved. One of the issues debated concerns the medicalisation of women’s reproduction as a (de)legitimate mean for gender equality in the labor market. Israel is one of the first countries to officially regulate SEF. The recommendations of Israel’s National Bioethics Council informing the regulation were analyzed as reflecting a perception of age-related fertility decline in terms of a medical problem; and hence as positively relating to SEF as a form of preventive medicine. Relying on interviews with relevant Israeli experts, this paper analyzes the experts’ debate regarding SEF, the related medicalisation processes and the Israeli health policy. Analysis revealed SEF to be highly controversial. Supporters legitimized SEF as potentially giving women new opportunities in the labor market while solving gendered time related (work-family, biological-social) conflicts. SEF was thus negotiated as a form of family/reproductive planning. The opposite position raised concerns from further medicalisation of women’s reproduction defining the difficulties faced by women as “social” problems which should be provided with social, state established solutions (e.g. family friendly work environment). I further discuss the notion of reproductive planning and timing in the context of the theoretical field of labor-markets. I conclude by discussing the relevance of the concepts of "(re)productive” and "clinical labor" (Cooper and Waldby, 2014) in the context of the gendered power relations reflected in male centered model of ideal participation in the labor force, gender stereotypes and the oppression of women’s bodies.