Reproductive Health: A Global View

Reproductive Health: A Global View

“Reproductive health” means more than just population control and family planning, says Marcia Inhorn, a medical anthropologist who’s spent the last 17 years studying infertility and new reproductive technologies in the Middle East. She cites a range of issues not directly related to contraception, including infertility, pregnancy loss, abortion practices, cultural attitudes towards childhood disability, infanticide as a means of sex selection, and adoption. “We need to broaden our scope,” she says.

Toward that end, Inhorn, a professor of health behavior and health education and an adjunct professor in women’s studies and anthropology at the University of Michigan, organized an international conference in Ann Arbor last May. The conference title, “Disruptions: Childlessness, Adoption, and Other Reproductive Complexities,” sums up the breadth and scope of the presentations. The School of Public Health was one of several major sponsors of the event.

Over 200 scholars from around the world attended the four-day conference. Euro-American researchers had the chance to interact with scholars from resource-poor countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, and social scientists exchanged ideas with scholars in the humanities. The follow-up e-mails were glowing: “You deserve a lot of credit . . . for taking the initiative to place infertility research in the context of reproduction in general and for dramatizing the central importance of reproductive disruptions to the social scientific enterprise,” wrote one attendee. A researcher from the Philippines told Inhorn and her colleagues the discussions on assisted reproductive technologies “were eye-openers for me, as these technologies and their attendant medical, political, ethical, etc. issues are barely tackled in my country.”

Inhorn says the conference heightened her own awareness of the many new technologies, including cloning and stem cell therapy, that “are coming down the pike, and they’re not being studied, and they’re traveling all over the globe. Reproductive technology is intersecting with genetic technology, and all of these things are spreading. What is it going to mean?”

Thanks to what Inhorn terms the “intellectual invigoration” generated by this year’s conference, that question won’t go unanswered. Plans are underway for another international gathering in 2008.

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Reproductive technology is intersecting with genetic technology. What is it going to mean?