Doctors as moral pioneers: Negotiated boundaries of assisted conception in Colombia

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Sociology of Health and Illness


New biotechnologies such as assisted conception are socially embedded artefacts that raise context-specific ethical, moral and social anxieties. In contexts where the regulations of these profitable developments are limited or ambiguous, and competition between private facilities is high, individual doctors become morally and socially responsible for determining the parameters of administering such therapies. Ethnographic research at two private fertility centres in Colombia reveals that doctors do not determine boundaries based on monetary gain but rather personal morals, social norms and professional obligations. Medical professionals hold diverse perceptions of assisted conception, and often struggle to make decisions regarding who should access such therapies, who are ideal gamete donors and the fate of extra embryos. The complexity of these perceptions applied in a context of limited regulation and the competition of private medicine impacts the praxis of assisted conception. As doctors determine the boundaries of their practice they not only create variation between clinical practices, but also make moral decisions regarding who should be parents, how families should be formed and the significance of embryos. Thus, in navigating their everyday practices, doctors also shape the social world.

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