The Discourse of Gifting in Embryo Donation: The Understandings of Donors, Recipients, and Counselors

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Abstract

In New Zealand, embryo donation (ED) is “open,” allowing offspring to access genetic information. Donors and recipients meet prior to donation. Drawing on interviews with 15 recipients, 22 donors, and nine counselors, this article discusses how ED may be constructed as a form of gifting. This discourse may evoke expectations that recipients will express gratitude for the gift, including through honoring contact agreements. Donation becomes a relational practice of obligations and counter-obligations. However, the gift discourse may not adequately capture the emotional sacrifice experienced by donors. Donors describe significant attachment to their embryos, ambiguity about relinquishment, and interest in offsprings’ welfare. Furthermore, embryos may be constructed as inalienable bodily gifts resulting in children with whom the donors share immutable social ties. A discourse of ED as mutual exchange, collaboration, and extended family building may be more useful to donors and recipients in managing ED.

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