Understandings and experiences of embryo donation in New Zealand - a discursive analysis

Goedeke, Sonja
Thorpe, Mark
Du Preez, Elizabeth
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Doctor of Philosophy
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Auckland University of Technology

Embryo donation (ED) is the donation by a couple who have surplus embryos following in vitro fertilisation to another infertile couple or person. The aim of this research was to address the paucity of knowledge on how ED is understood and experienced by donors and recipients. The research, the first on ED in New Zealand, is particularly relevant due to the newness of ED in the country and the unique guidelines: Registration of donor identity, mandatory individual and joint counselling for donors and recipients, and case-by-case application to an ethics committee.

A discursive analytic approach was adopted, drawing on elements of both discursive psychology and Foucauldian discourse analysis. This took into account the potential influence of extra-discursive factors including embodiment, personal-social biographies and material conditions.

Analysis focused on identifying discourses available in New Zealand society and how individuals invested in these discourses, and the implications for donor and recipient experiences and the resulting kinship structures. To facilitate a comprehensive and holistic understanding, the analysis was conducted across a range of sites: The academic literature, New Zealand’s legislative frameworks, policy guidelines, and ethics committee applications and decision-making. Further, interviews were conducted with 9 ED counsellors, 22 donors (10 couples, 2 individuals) and 15 recipients (5 couples, 5 individuals).

A central discourse identified was the genetic discourse. Genetic connections were constructed as bestowing immutable kinship ties between donors and offspring. Donors constructed the children as still partly theirs, making ED a difficult choice, and conveying responsibility for the child’s welfare. Recipients constructed knowledge about genetic background as significant for their child’s identity and health. Disclosure of donor conception and access to the donors was thus assumed as a necessary, albeit challenging, part of being a parent through ED.

Donors and recipients managed the significance of genetics through drawing on a number of further discourses: An adoption discourse (constructing ED as adoption, offering a familiar framework for this form of family-building, and making transparent rights and responsibilities), a gestational discourse (valuing the role of gestation in attachment), gifting and reciprocal exchange discourses (constructing the donation as a gift from donors to recipients, versus a mutually beneficial practice) and a discourse of ED as building extended families. The latter discourse enabled donors to maintain an interest as extended family, allowed recipients to assume parental authority but accommodate and manage the role of donors, and recognised sibling relationships. Donors and recipients were able to strategically appropriate genetic, gestational, and social elements of reproduction and parenting in a way that did not destabilise family relationships and boundaries. These new kinship forms were constructed as complex and novel however, creating anxiety and ambivalence amongst donors, recipients, and counsellors.

Recommendations suggested for ED policy and practice include strategies to assist donor offspring to gain greater awareness and access to information on their genetic background, and the development of longer-term support structures to assist in the promotion of positive long-term outcomes for all parties involved in ED.

IVF , Embryo donation , Understandings , Experiences , Discourse analysis
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