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God's Laboratory

God's Laboratory: Assisted Reproduction in the Andes

Elizabeth F. S. Roberts
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 298
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  • Book Info
    God's Laboratory
    Book Description:

    Assisted reproduction, with its test tubes, injections, and gamete donors, raises concerns about the nature of life and kinship. Yet these concerns do not take the same shape around the world. In this innovative ethnography of in vitro fertilization in Ecuador, Elizabeth F.S. Roberts explores how reproduction by way of biotechnological assistance is not only accepted but embraced despite widespread poverty and condemnation from the Catholic Church. Roberts’ intimate portrait of IVF practitioners and their patients reveals how technological intervention is folded into an Andean understanding of reproduction as always assisted, whether through kin or God. She argues that the Ecuadorian incarnation of reproductive technology is less about a national desire for modernity than it is a product of colonial racial history, Catholic practice, and kinship configurations. God’s Laboratory offers a grounded introduction to critical debates in medical anthropology and science studies, as well as a nuanced ethnography of the interplay between science, religion, race and history in the formation of Andean families.

    eISBN: 978-0-520-95225-6
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
    (pp. xvii-xx)
    (pp. xxi-xxv)
  7. Introduction: Reproductive Assistance
    (pp. 1-31)

    Figure 1 is an abstracted image of the in vitro fertilization process, similar to those found in informational brochures distributed by infertility clinics in Ecuador and throughout the world. The purpose of the image is to explain the process of IVF for the uninformed, but it takes some previous knowledge to understand it. The viewer needs to be able to recognize what she or he is looking at and what has been omitted. A cutaway view of female reproductive organs shows the fallopian tubes, the uterus, and the top of the cervix. Next to these free-floating organs are two free-floating...

  8. Corporeal Punishment: Sandra
    (pp. 32-35)

    Llamas grazed in the crumbling median strip of the road outside sandra’s tiny cinderblock house in northern Quito, near a decaying public hospital. In her bare and chilly kitchen, sandra told me about the illegal abortions she had undergone as a teenager. At fifteen, she had fled to the city from the south to escape the sexual abuse of her mother’s new boyfriend. She found work in a canning factory and met Luis, a truck driver, twelve years her senior. After her third abortion, when she was seventeen, she landed in the hospital. The pregnancy had been ectopic (a dangerous...

  9. ONE Private Medicine and the Law of Life
    (pp. 36-67)

    On april 19, 2005, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was elected to succeed John Paul II as pope. Pope Benedict, as he is now known, was, in the decades before his ordination, the theologian primarily responsible for framing the Church’s position on reproduction and the dignity of human life. In his address on behalf of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, titledInstruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation(Ratzinger 1987), Ratzinger reinforced the Vatican’s position against abortion and birth control and laid out objections to new reproductive technologies like IVF. This...

  10. Crazy for Bingo: Consuelo
    (pp. 68-74)

    Consuelo was an out-of-work medical technician, and her husband, Jorge, was a janitor who left school when he was fourteen. He made $100 a month, almost poverty-level wages. The couple had the lowest combined income of all the IVF patients I met in Ecuador. At twenty-seven, Consuelo got pregnant with twins through an IVF cycle with Dr. Jaramillo in Guayaquil. When I visited her for the first time in 2003, she immediately apologized for the shabbiness of their home. It was a windowless, hot cement room partitioned off with blankets. The walls were peeling and moist—and this was the...

  11. TWO Assisted Whiteness
    (pp. 75-101)

    This chapter is a tour through some of the care practices and relations that make up assisted reproduction in Ecuador and which cultivate a woman’s whiteness. These include surgical and medical invasions like cesarean sections and IVF, the kindly authority male physicians wield over their female patients, the administration of hormones, the economy of bed rest, and collectively organized bingo games. This chapter is in part about class: that is, the ability of women and their supporters to access medical care through material and symbolic capital. It is also about whiteness, which is both a physiological and an economic state....

  12. Yo Soy Teresa La Fea/Ugly Teresa
    (pp. 102-111)

    Teresa epitomized what most middle-class Quiteños callhumilde(humility). she was tiny and fine-boned and spoke very quietly, with a birdlike, nervous voice and manner. In Dr. Hidalgo’s clinic, where she was an IVF patient and donor-egg recipient, Teresa was deferential, addressing everyone, including the receptionist and nurse, with the formalusted,instead oftu.

    Quiteños of any means would call Teresa an Indian. She was a dark-skinned seamstress from Zambiza, one of the several historically Indian pueblos on the rim of northern Quito. But Teresa didn’t call herself an Indian, even though she said her grandparents were Indian: instead,...

  13. THREE White Beauty: Gamete Donation in a Mestizo Nation
    (pp. 112-137)

    In 1995 a scandal erupted at the fertility clinic at the University of California, Irvine, when reports emerged that the clinic directors, Ricardo Asch (from Chile) and Jose Balmaceda (from Mexico), had surreptitiously taken eggs and embryos from patients and transferred them to other patients in the hope of achieving pregnancy. The story became front-page news across the United States (New York Times 1995; Dalton 1996). In the media reports, the quest for medical profits was pitted against the sanctity of genetic ties that most North Americans experience as the very grounds of relatedness. Among other malpractices, Asch and Balmaceda...

  14. When Blood Calls: Frida and Anabela
    (pp. 138-147)

    In the summer of 2003, Frida, a clothing importer living in Queens, New York, returned to Ecuador, the country of her birth. Frida often imported inexpensive clothing from Quito, but this particular trip included a transaction of another sort. Frida and her husband, Arturo, a limousine driver and her business administrator, had wanted to have a child together since their marriage ten years earlier. After two years of trying, they consulted with Dr. Molina’s infertility clinic in Quito, where they were living at the time. He diagnosed Frida with blocked fallopian tubes and recommended IVF treatment. Frida didn’t have enough...

  15. FOUR Egg Economies and the Traffic between Women
    (pp. 148-179)

    “Cuando la sangre lama, la sangre mata” (When blood calls, blood kills), insisted the author of an editorial in a Quito newspaper in 1994. The article criticized the indigenous political organization CONAIE (Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador) for rejecting a proposed agrarian development law. The law would end agrarian reform, liberalize the land market, privatize water rights, and intensify export production.¹ In her analysis of the article, the anthropologist Suzana Sawyer argued that the author, Enrique Valle Andrade, framed the controversy as a trial of nationhood, with Indians on trial. She quoted Andrade’s words: “The nation is not conceived...

  16. Abandonment: Vanessa
    (pp. 180-185)

    Even in her surgical bouffant cap, Vanessa was beautiful; high cheekbones and luminescent brown eyes. She was followed into the operating room by her husband, Juan Carlos, who looked like a rock star, with his bleached blond, tiger-striped hair, his heavy silver earrings, and chains peeking out of his scrubs. At thirty, Vanessa was on the young side for IVF patients; she had been diagnosed with blocked tubes. A year before, in 1999, she had been to a clinic in Cuenca, in southern Ecuador, for infertility treatment. It had been a disastrous journey. The doctor didn’t know what he was...

  17. FIVE On Ice: Embryo Destinies
    (pp. 186-210)

    On May 25, 2005, the front page of theNew York Timescarried a picture of U.S. President George Bush at a press conference, holding a baby born “as a result of one couple’s donation of frozen embryos to another.” The donation was arranged by a Christian embryo “adoption” agency.¹ At the conference, surrounded by children born from frozen embryo adoption, Bush stated that “the children here today remind us that there is no such thing as a spare embryo” (quoted in Stolberg 2005, 1). bush held the press conference as a preemptive strike against Congress’s push to expand federal...

  18. CONCLUSION: Care-Worthy
    (pp. 211-216)

    I began with a volcano. I’ll end with a hurricane. In the days after Hurricane Katrina, a multistate consortium of police officers rescued a cryopreservation tank filled with 1,400 frozen embryos from a private hospital in New Orleans. One of those embryos was implanted, and sixteen months later Noah was born, named in remembrance of his watery journey (New York Times 2007). Noah’s story was recounted by the conservative legal theorist robert P. George and the philosopher Christopher Tollefson in the opening of their much-publicized 2008 manifestoEmbryo: A Defense of Human Life.George and Tollefson argue that if the...

  19. NOTES
    (pp. 217-230)
    (pp. 231-254)
  21. INDEX
    (pp. 255-273)
  22. Back Matter
    (pp. 274-274)