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The Big Data Institute, Oxford

Posted by: Giulia Cavaliere

I had the opportunity to visit the Ethox Centre as a Caroline Miles Scholar twice, in March 2020 and in May 2022. Past scholars: don’t get too excited. You won’t be allowed to return, no matter how much you liked your visit (and, based on personal experience, I’m pretty sure you liked it a lot).

My return was due to a mix of extraordinary circumstances and extraordinary generosity. My first visit was interrupted due to the beginning of what we all thought would a couple-of-weeks-max-lockdown. My second visit has been made possible by Prof Mike Parker, who, very generously indeed, invited me back in May 2022 to have a shot at my one-month long visit.

During my time at Ethox, I worked on one of the papers that are part of a project on the ethics and politics of genetic relatedness, which I hope to turn into a book in the not-too-distant future.

The paper offers a response to two objections against state provision of IVF and other forms of fertility treatment. It responds to the objection, originally formulated by Emily McTernan, that fertility treatments are financially costly, and that it is unjustifiable for the state to provide funding to the project of becoming a parent vis-à-vis providing funding to other projects that people might have, such as travelling, having a fulfilling career or buying a house.

The second objection that my paper responds to is raised by Mianna Lotz and other feminist theorists. It articulates the idea that providing funding for costly forms of fertility treatment amounts to an endorsement, on the part of the state, of some problematic social norms that cast genetic relatedness as a superior way of becoming a parent and that compel women to take up the socially prescribed role of mothers.

My paper is a defence of an approach that takes women’s (reproductive) preferences more seriously, and that reconciles their fulfilment with political projects aimed at improving the material and social conditions of sub-fertile people: people who, for social or biological reasons (or an intersection of the two), are unable to reproduce unassisted.

This paper is part of a large-ish project on people’s desire for genetic relatedness and on the use of reproductive technologies to fulfil it. Beyond state-provision of fertility treatment, I’m interested in what this desire amounts to; whether using reproductive technologies to fulfil it is something worth defending; and whether and how other ways to become parents ought to be promoted instead. For more on this: buy my book! It’ll give me an incentive to actually write it.

For me, being at Ethox as a visiting scholar meant to have a month-long academic holiday from some of my day-to-day job-related activities and meet some very interesting people. Thanks to the fellowship, I could focus squarely on this paper, and take time to write it, discuss it with the very kind and clever staff of the Ethox Centre, present it at one of their weekly seminars, and engage with members of the broader Wellcome Centre community.

Besides this, I had some great lunches and coffees with the Ethox team, long runs in the forest, I attended very interesting talks and seminars, and I chatted up every single staff member that walked past my desk. I’m very grateful to Mike, Angeliki, Aileen, Alberto and all the people who made this possible for me, and who took time to talk to me about babies and other very interesting stuff.

Giulia CavaliereDr Giulia Cavaliere

Lecturer in Medical Law & Ethics at the Centre of Medical Law & Ethics at King’s College London