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By Rosa Mas Giralt
Last weekend, The Observer Magazine published an in-depth article by Emma John (with photography by Ed Alcock) which investigated unregulated services of sperm donation. The shortages of donors in many European countries and the consequential long waiting list for those needing in vitro fertilization from public health services and the lack of alternatives for those who have been denied this treatment (e.g. single women, gay couples), have led an increasing number of people to take up the offers of men volunteering their “reproductive” assistance over the internet (as the author of the article reminds us, it is a voluntary gesture as it is illegal to sell sperm in Europe). The level of involvement of these donors in the lives of their biological offspring takes different forms, from complete disconnection to open communication, if desired. Despite the obvious concerns that such unregulated practices raise with the related health, safety and legal risks for both bona fide donors and recipients; these types of practices allow us to reflect on the changing social and ‘natural’ landscape of reproductive procedures and their relationship to how we conceptualize kinship.
In an article for Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, Catherine Nash reminded us how “[t]he development of new reproductive technologies has been the subject of some of the most significant work on the ways in which the categories of nature and the natural are troubled by bio-technologies that threaten to disrupt kinship’s natural facts of paternity, sex, gestation and birth and are reproduced via new technology” (2005: 453). These new practices of human reproduction add to the debates that this author discussed under the banner of “geographies of relatedness”. In the article, Nash argued that there is a need to reconceptualise kinship away from dualisms based on genetic essentialism or on purely relational performativities unsettled by the persistence of essentialist and individualist ideas; she proposes that the focus should be on “explor[ing] the diverse effects of kinship in practice”. The new kind of personal “connections and disconnections” (Nash, 2005: 460) created by alternative ways of undertaking the act of human reproduction may offer fruitful avenues to understand the effects of alternative kinships.