Stem cells, genetic selection, and strong embryos: A feminist analysis of preimplantation genetic diagnosis

Michelle McGowan. “Stem cells, genetic selection, and strong embryos: A feminist analysis of preimplantation genetic diagnosis.” Diss. U of Washington, 2007.

This dissertation assesses the social, ethical and political economic implications of the growth of the biomedical sector of reproductive and genetic technologies in the United States. Focusing specifically on one emergent technology, this project investigates how risk and responsibility have been conceptualized in relation to preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a diagnostic technique that is paired with in vitro fertilization (IVF) to analyze the genetic and chromosomal makeup of embryos to determine which embryos should be implanted into a woman's uterus for gestation. Analysis of commentary on PGD as it appeared in the print media revealed that "expert" accounts of PGD have focused primarily on the potential risks and benefits of sensationalist uses of PGD for embryonic stem cell research, sex selection and creating designer babies. These media reports have privileged the viewpoints of scientists, clinicians, bioethicists, policymakers and theologians while the perspectives of PGD users have been largely absent. Given that women undergoing PGD and IVF bear the bulk of the embodied risks and responsibilities for the outcomes of embryonic genetic testing, the feminist impetus for this research is to examine how PGD users' subjectivities have been produced through particular political rationalities. PGD users' representations of this technology in postings to an online bulletin board provide insight into the confluence of ideologies that motivate their decision to use embryonic genetic testing to try to build a family. Bringing together liberal, neoliberal and pronatalist worldviews, PGD users conceptualize embryonic genetic testing as a reproductive and genetic risk management tool, and see themselves as responsible caregivers. The disjuncture between experts' utopic and dystopic portrayals of PGD and users' seemingly mundane and neutralized accounts of PGD points to differences in the ways in which various constituencies conceptualize risks to the embryo, to the individual seeker of genetic medicine, and to society as well as to the various ways in which power operates in relation to embryonic genetic testing and research involving human embryos.

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