NSF The Effects of Socio-cultural Context on Human Bio-Markets


Project Description

The research supported by this award investigates the effects of socio-cultural context on the governance of human bio-material donation and sale. Over the past few decades, medical science has increased the potential uses of human bio-materials. However, as innovation has increased, so have questions about costs, outcomes, and ethics. In response, a variety of different regulatory policies have been adopted globally. This variation across countries provides an excellent opportunity for comparative research to see to what degree policy differences produce different outcomes for donors, recipients, and other stakeholders. In this project, researchers focus on one area of bio-material donation — compensated donation of human eggs — in two different cultural contexts. Results from this research will benefit policy makers, medical professionals, and patient and provider advocates. The project also provides research training opportunities for graduate students.

The research is a collaborative effort between the University of Alabama Department of Anthropology and Institute for Social Science Research, the Spanish University of Distance Education (UNED) and from Complutense University (UCM), both in Madrid, Spain. These research sites were chosen because the United States and Spain are the two primary locations for donor egg fertility treatment, but their bio-material markets operate within dramatically different cultural and regulatory environments. The U.S. has comparatively few regulations limiting donor selection, compensation, and identification, while Spain is highly regulated, limits donor compensation, and requires donor anonymity.

The researchers collect data through ethnographic observation in multiple clinics in each country; interviews with medical professionals in the fertility industry and other key informants; and interviews and surveys of paid egg donors in both locations. Results will help social scientists understand how underlying cultural logics inform the crafting and regulation of medical markets and the commodification of human bio-materials. Preliminary results have been presented at professional meetings of The American Society of Reproductive Medicine, Spanish fertility clinics and hospitals, The American Anthropological Association annual convenings, and have also been used to inform policy and advocacy efforts surrounding assisted reproduction and donor conception in the United States.

For more information see the project website.