Embryo ecologies and the (re)production of healthy bodies

Authors: Juliane Collard*, University of British Columbia
Topics: Medical and Health Geography
Keywords: life itself; health; biomedicine; embryos; biological reproduction
Session Type: Paper
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In vitro fertilization has precipitated a vital respatialization of reproduction. Once confined to the opaque depths of the womb, early embryo development now occurs readily and with increasingly high success rates outside the body, opening up the biology of fertility to flexible spatial possibilities. Geographers have examined the extensification of reproductive networks that has ensued, following eggs, sperm, and embryos between bodies, across borders, and around the world. But IVF has equally wrought a geographical intensification that has received far less attention. The ability to extract human embryos from the spatial and temporal constraints of the body has granted science and capitalism unprecedented, if always incomplete, access to the concrete space of the embryo, rendering ‘life itself’ increasingly porous and malleable. Today, human embryo interiors are studied, manipulated, experimented with, and commercialized in previously impossible ways. These technoscientific interventions in ex vivo embryo ‘ecologies’, I argue in this paper, have generated powerful biomedical knowledge about the healthy bodies we are supposed (to want) to have and reproduce – able-bodied, neuro-typical, long-living, sexually dimorphic. But it has also rendered this biomedical knowledge material – for example through embryo selection practices that result in the discarding of ‘abnormal’ embryos – with significant implications for our socio-biological futures. Drawing on fieldwork conducted in California’s biotechnology and reproductive medicine sectors, this paper situates the ex vivo human embryo as a key site in the production and materialization of embodied health knowledge, one deserving of careful and critical analysis by geographers.

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