Professor Carol Smart (Sociology, The Morgan Centre for the Study of Relationships and Personal Life University of Manchester)
This paper is based on a study I am carrying out with my colleague Dr Petra Nordqvist on donor conception. This study is framed within the relationalities approach which is to say that our primary focus is on how the introduction of a non-genetically related child (or partially genetically related child) is managed within existing kin and ‘marital’ relationships. We have interviewed couples in heterosexual and lesbian relationships as well as the grandparents of such couples in order to understand the processes that family members go through in the anticipation of a child and in handling the sensitivities arising from donor conception. All the couples we interviewed took the view that donor conception (egg, sperm or embryo) was ‘better’ than adoption, but not as desirable as conception arising from the merging of their own gametes. This was because with egg or sperm donation at least one person (and their family line) was genetically related to the child. Embryo donation did not provide the genetic link but it did provide a pregnancy and birth experience, thus giving a woman the biological experience of motherhood. However, this partial genetic link (or biological experience) inevitably meant that there was an inequality between the parents and between paternal and maternal grandparents and this inequality had to be managed somehow. It is this field of management that I shall explore in this lecture by drawing on our interview data and presenting the complex and emotional negotiations that the couples and grandparents had to achieve.
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