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Keywords:

  • reproductive technologies;
  • donor insemination;
  • the creation of parent–child relationships;
  • youshi (adoption);
  • kounotorino yurikago (baby post)

Abstract

This manuscript addresses the principles that underlie the creation of parent–child relationships in Japan. I argue here that the use of reproductive technologies reinforces social norms that dictate the importance of blood relationships within modern families, and these norms, in turn, drive the development of reproductive technologies to the point that their use becomes standard. Here, I will use the social positioning of donor insemination (DI) as the point from which to examine the emergence of parent–child relationships.1 The ethical implications of “third-party reproductive technologies” like donor insemination, the use of donated eggs, fertilized embryos, and practices of surrogate birth, have come to be questioned in recent years. However, the process of questioning the very concept of an unrelated third-party donor makes clear the tacit norms behind parent–child relationships, which drive the development and use of reproductive technologies. Here, I will discuss (1) the historical background and contemporary social positioning of DI; and (2) examine the concept of third-party donors. In cases of male infertility, DI provides a unique opportunity for couples to produce a child who is genetically related to one of them (the woman), and with the institutionalization of DI as a medical infertility treatment, it has become possible for couples to secretly undergo treatment and thus simulate a normative, blood-related modern family. However, there is a significant level of social resistance to the notion of DI, and with the development of treatment options that make use of the man's own sperm, DI has become only rarely utilized. This fact makes DI an excellent case study to examine the ways that blood and genetic relationships are prioritized in contemporary Japanese society.