Mapping reprotechnologies and feminist mobilisations, FWSA 2013

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Music & Liberation Project (photo from the excibition at the conference venue)

At the FWSA 2013 conference today, I presented some findings from research that I have conducted, which maps feminist actors mobilising around ethical, social and political aspects of reproductive technologies.

For this research I used digital methods (Rogers) and focused on the 2011 consultation by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA). Of particular interest to me was the payment for donors, a policy under review proposed by the consultation.The media analysis and network analysis of the consultation offers an understanding of public engagement with reproductive technologies, and the specificities of feminist interventions in particular.  In this paper I examined:

1) The dominant issues in three spheres (feminists, news, policy). I compared these issues once for ‘HFEA compensation’ and once for ‘egg donation’, across spheres and determined their specificity per sphere.

2) Construction of donor and the construction of ‘egg donation’ in public discourse and imagery.

This is complemented with research on (I did not present these findings):

3) Issue network of consultation, which provides the connections and linking behaviour of main actors (feminists, policy actors, NGOs, independent intellectuals, news/bloggers).

4) Construction of expertise of feminist academic actors (around the themes of reprotechnologies and egg donation), by analysing the status of publications and their influence, in comparison to science publications.

5) Close reading of commentary on a feminist guest blog about compensation, which analyses the dominant issues and identities that readers/commentators occupy.

The theoretical framework of this research is informed by conceptualisations of reproductive labour, clinical labour and biovalue (Dickenson 2002, Waldby and Cooper 2008; 2010), and methodologically by digital sociology and Actor network theory (ANT) (see Marres 2012, Scraping the social, Latour and Wiebel 2005 Making things public).

I am writing up this research at the moment.

In Nottingham, I also attended this excellent panel on Cultural Memory and Transformation on Saturday.

EDIT: This is how the FWSA blog summarised my paper:

Dr Aristea Fotopoulou (University of Sussex), “Reprotechnologies and feminist mobilisations: Mapping with digital methods”

Dr Fotopoulou presented findings from her current research mapping actors and feminist mobilisations within online discourses on reproductive technologies. The starting point for the research was the 2011 Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) consultation on compensation for egg donors. Egg donation is classed in the same category as all forms of ‘tissue donation’ (including sperm donation), which restricts payments to compensation for the loss of earnings and expenses (this amount was increased to £750 from £250 following the consultation). The impetus for the review was framed around a discourse of scarcity of eggs, with eggs constructed as something that limits women’s fertility treatment in Britain. From a Marxist analysis, this can be understood in terms of the creation of a need, shifting towards the construction of egg donation as part of an industry. Employing a digital sociology approach, ‘scraping’ websites for relevant content, Dr Fotopoulou conducted a media analysis of news stories, feminist blogs and policy websites to explore the ways in which discussions about egg donation were framed in relation to this consultation. She looked at who the main actors in the discussions were, how the issues were represented visually and how the dominant imaginary constructed the egg donor. She was in particular interested in how feminists constructed the issues and their influence on the debate. Her results highlighted how policy documents focused mainly on issues related to travel expenses and overseas travel, while feminist discussions also covered issues more broadly related to the law, women’s health, and politics of reproductive technologies more generally. When scraping for images, the dominant representations of egg donation featuring living ‘things’ (as opposed to those which featured medical images or technology), tended to feature babies and (chicken) eggs (including babies emerging from chicken eggs). When women were pictured, they were mostly posed together with babies and families, rarely on their own. And in terms of the HFEA’s own discourse, Dr Fotopoulou found that it did not make women’s labour visible at all in the process of egg donation, dismissing the invasiveness of sourcing procedures.

Paper at the FWSA’s 2013 conference ‘The Lady Doth Protest: Mapping Feminist Movements, Moments and Mobilisations’

http://fwsaconference.files.wordpress.com/2012/06/cropped-marta-kiss-headerjpeg2.jpgGood news that my paper Feminist spaces and digital methodologies: Mapping the issue of reproductive technologies as a social controversy (such a long title!), has been accepted for the FWSA’s 2013 conference ‘The Lady Doth Protest: Mapping Feminist Movements, Moments and Mobilisations’, 21st – 23rd June 2013 (FWSA is the Feminist and Women’s Studies Association, UK & Ireland).

This paper maps debates around reproductive technologies and commercialisation which evolved in the global public sphere after the 2011 consultation on egg donation. The consultation was launched by the UK Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) and concerned, amongst other issues, the review of payment for egg donors for IVF. This is primarily a digital issue-netwok mapping (of a social controversy  online), including key policy and feminist iterations from campaigns, the news, weblogs and academic papers. The paper also reflects on digital issue mapping as a methodological choice for researching feminist spaces and interventions.

Keywords: reproductive technologies, commercialisation, digital mapping, egg donation, social controversy

viva prep: since you submitted your thesis, what happened with…

– the Gay men blood ban: well, the lifetime ban by the National Blood service got lifted in September 2011. Now men who have engaged in sexual activity with other men in the past get a one-year-deferral, which is also the case in Italy and Spain. I’ve written about the ‘Donation not discrimination’ campaign of the National Union of Students LGBT section (also supported by Stonewall, UNISON and others) in my Chapter on space, digital networking and political identity.

– the HFEA consultation on egg donation & compensation. According to the October 2011 press release, the HFEA decided to pay women £750 per cycle of donation, which according to Lisa Jardine reflects the ‘value of donation’ – not sure what this means. But I think I understand what ‘capitalise’ means in this sentence: ‘That’s why we have decided to capitalise on our unique position by actively helping the sector to attract and retain donors, use their donations to their full and ensure that donors are well cared for and valued.’ One of my thesis chapters examines some feminist biopolitical assemblages around the 2011 HFEA consultation and reproductive rights more generally in relation to debates about the global flows of information and bodily material.

Thoughts on the HPV Vaccine

Vaccine Policies and Discourses in the media

The HPV vaccine has been widely called ‘the anti-cancer vaccine’ and campaigns throughout the UK, the US and Europe have focused on vaccination for young girls as a preventative measure for cervical cancer. In October 2007 the UK Government, Scottish and Northern Ireland Executives, and the Welsh Assembly, announced the national immunisation programme. The HPV vaccination programme for girls aged 12-13 was officially launched on 3 September 2008, supplemented by catch-up campaign to vaccinate all girls until the age of 18 by 2010/11. The aim of the policy is to achieve a 90% uptake rate for the HPV immunisation programme within the defined cohort of children1.

Objections to the measure mainly concern the health risks of the vaccination procedure and less the efficiency of the drug. Some discussion has emerged around the preference of the UK health services to administer the cost effective Cervarix2, which protects against types 16 and 18 of the virus but not the types related to genital warts. Recently, a number of teenagers who suffered various side effects relating to the vaccine, launched the first legal action against GSK3. In the US, religious conservatives object to the policy (or other sexual health prevention measures) because it is believed to increase promiscuity.

The HPV immunisation program in the UK includes at the moment girls aged 9-18 with the Department of Health (DH) considering the possibility of future inclusion of boys. The urge (and recent request for further acceleration by the DH) with which the program was introduced to girls and the simultaneous caution towards boys, makes this an issue of feminist interest. Girls are the receivers of a medical intervention that has debatable benefits. It is important that the vaccine is presented as a means of prevention for cervical cancer and that the distinction between the HPV virus and cervical cancer is not highlighted. In the news, the vaccine is constructed as a preventive measure for a ‘female cancer’ and the focus shifts from the prevention of STDs. In a similar manner during the early 1900s, gonorrhoea was set apart from syphilis and other venereal diseases, whilst emphasis on the effects on women’s reproductive health led to vaccine therapy. At the time, feminist campaigners like Christabel Pankhurst used the argument of prostitution versus quantity of future generations in order to request political equality for women4. It is anticipated that, today, by creating distance from other STDs, the vaccine managed to surpass objections from moral right wing or religious groups as is the case in the US. It would be interesting to trace how the vaccine and the program of immunisation has been constructed as a women’s-health issue in the UK, drawing on parallel developments in the US and rest of EU, and how the representation of the vaccine has departed from ontological aspects (of the virus) to the physiological and gender specific (cervical cancer).

A survey conducted by Cancer Research UK (2007) found that 80% of the mothers agreed that the appropriate age for vaccination was between 10-14, and that 75% of mothers said they would probably or definitely accept the HPV vaccine for their daughter5. The Independent Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation advised that HPV vaccination would be most efficiently delivered through schools (NHS, 2007). At the same time, the policy is controversial regarding personal choice and parental responsibility. It states:

‘Competent young people are entitled to give consent to treatment when they have sufficient understanding and intelligence to understand fully what is

involved in treatment but ideally their parents will also be involved. When a young person has signed the consent form, the school nurse should complete

a ‘Checklist for Competency to Consent Form’ (2008: 6).

Anti-vaccination movements have predominately concerned childhood immunisation and public health threats. They have involved a wide range of individuals from various backgrounds and with diverse beliefs, but mainly focused on moral issues and personal freedom from state intervention6. The number of parents who resist routine childhood immunisations continues to grow7 and research has indicated that their fears concern safety rather than effectiveness8. Moving the responsibility for consent to children, as in the case of the HPV vaccination, has ethical implications while it practically eliminates the possibilities for anti-vaccination campaigns. This opens up the discussion around tensions created between age and sexual maturity, care and personal freedom9.

The vaccine brings together some of the discourses that have concerned feminisms, namely sexuality, technologies and reproduction. This vaccination program needs to be examined within the context of other technological interventions like IVF, and the context of feminist politics, especially as the intervention concerns the daughters of women who generationally might have lived through the echo of the Women’s Movement in Britain. The campaigning and research activities of feminist health and health technology professionals, but also the pro-choice movement play a significant role in the construction of woman’s health as a central issue for policy.

Notes

1‘This immunisation programme must be in line with the Department of Health (2006) guidance ‘Immunisation against infectious disease and in conjunction with the Health Protection Agency’s standards of competence and guidelines on immunisation (HPA 2005)’, source ‘Trust policy for the implementation of the HPV vaccination programme’, Southern Health and Social Care Trust, 2008

2 By GlaxoSmithKline http://www.cervarix.co.uk/index.asp . The US FDA has approved Gardasil manufactured by Merck in 2006.

3Lucy Johnston, ‘Teenage girls sue over cancer jab’, April 19,2009, Daily Express, [online]

http://www.express.co.uk/posts/view/95924/Teenage-girls-sue-over-cancer-jab [accessed 10 May 2009]

4 Worboys, M. (2004) ‘Unsexing Gonorrhoea: Bacteriologists, Gynaecologists and Suffragists in Britain, 1860-1920’, Social history of Medicine, Vol. 17:1

5Cancer Research UK [online] [available from] http://info.cancerresearchuk.org/news/archive/pressreleases/2007/january/277742 [accessed 8 May 2009]

6During the 1853 Compulsory Vaccination Act, the anti-vaccination movement was constituted of both middle and working class people who saw public health policies as examples of class-focused legislation. Policies were compulsory, targeting working-class infants. Nadja Durbach (2000) explains how anti-vaccination campaigns helped to reorganize working-class identities around what was interpreted as violation of their bodies. It is interesting how a similar approach was used by E.P. Thompson (1963) when discussing the Luddist movement not as anti-technological, but as pivotal to the formation of the English working class.

7Levi, B., H. (2007) ‘Addressing Parents’ Concerns About Childhood Immunizations: A Tutorial for Primary Care Providers’, Pediatrics, Vol. 120: 1

8 Kumanan Wilson, Meredith Barakat, Sunita Vohra, Paul Ritvo and Heather Boon (2008) ‘Parental views on pediatric vaccination: the impact of competing advocacy coalitions’, Public Understanding of Science; 17; 231

9The discussion on vaccination is tangible to meanings of the Welfare State and national identity. In the US there has been discussion around the compulsory vaccination of immigrants entering the country. Even though this is not the case in the UK, there is controversy around discourses of the vaccine as a measure against an infectious disease and the vaccine as the prevention for cancer. This controversy opens up the discussion about ‘our’ girls, in need of protection, and the ‘other’ girls bringing the virus in the nation.

Suggested Bibliography

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