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Feminist Perspectives on Human Genetics and Reproductive Technologies

  1. Donna L Dickenson

Published Online: 15 SEP 2009

DOI: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005592.pub2



How to Cite

Dickenson, D. L. 2009. Feminist Perspectives on Human Genetics and Reproductive Technologies. eLS. .

Author Information

  1. University of London (Emeritus), London, UK

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 SEP 2009


Feminism offers three separate but equally important insights about human genetics and the new reproductive technologies. First, feminism is concerned with ways in which these new technologies have the potential to exploit women while seeming to offer women greater reproductive freedom. Second, feminism draws our attention to the ways in which decisions about genetic testing and reproductive choice take place in the context of relationship. Finally, feminist analysts and activists have been among the leaders in identifying the threats from commodification and commercialization in genetic research and patenting, which often affect women disproportionately. Although other authors have produced important critiques of commodification and patenting in this area, feminist writers have drawn specific attention to impacts on women that had not previously been considered. They have also produced concrete proposals for benefit-sharing to compensate for harms women suffer from genetic research, particularly in Third World countries.

Key concepts:

  • Conventional bioethics frequently lacks a political dimension, which feminism corrects by focusing on power and justice issues in the new biotechnologies, including genetics.

  • A key insight of feminism has been that neither genetics nor new reproductive technology is gender-neutral.

  • For example, if there were to be a general movement towards preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD) on the basis of minimizing hereditary genetic disorders, women would be asked routinely to undergo superovulation and egg extraction for the purpose of in vitro fertilization (IVF).

  • More generally, it may be asked whether the wider availability of genetic tests will burden women disproportionately with moral quandaries, because typically it is women who are expected to assume responsibility not only for their own health but also for that of their families.

  • Women have also been disproportionately affected by the trend towards private firms taking out patents on human genes – with nearly 20 per cent of the human genome having been patented by 2005.

  • One instance of restrictive genetic patenting with particularly harmful impact on women has involved the fees levied for diagnostic tests on two genes implicated in some breast cancers, BRCA1 and BRCA2.

  • According to a feminist analysis, genetics and new reproductive technologies (NRTs) pose a risk when they ignore or even worsen those differences in burdens between men and women that actually could be alleviated by modern biotechnology.


  • new reproductive technologies;
  • feminism;
  • genetic testing;
  • genetic patents;
  • commodification