The Political Economy of Transnational Egg Donation: The Case of Ukrainian Market of Eggs
Anthropological research in different settings suggests that the globalization of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) and “reproductive tourism” associated with it reinforce global and local inequalities. In particular, scholars have demonstrated how class, gender, racial and national hierarchies are reproduced by the growing tendency in the North America and Western Europe to offshore egg donation and surrogacy beyond their borders. From the perspective of political economy, these stratifications of reproduction reflect the social relations of labor. The present study is the first to analyze the means of production and relations of labor associated with the emergence of Ukraine as a new market of reproductive materials and bioavailable workers oriented specifically toward (West) European purchasers. This paper focuses on the transnational flows of donor eggs harvested in Ukraine and reproductive travel of the Ukrainian egg donors who participate in international egg donation arrangements. I examine the processes through which human reproductive materials become commodities produced under the alienating conditions of capitalism and exchanged on the global market of assisted reproductive technologies. By exploring the implications of this valorization process for the egg donors in Ukraine, I reveal how it relies on the unacknowledged reproductive labor of economically disadvantaged women that allows for the accumulation of capital, through the production of surplus value of eggs and economic surplus value for the clinics and agencies. As a result, I investigate how the material conditions required for the production, exchange and use of the female reproductive cells, structure the experiences of egg donors in Ukraine as precarious laborers in the global economy by reinforcing the invisibility of their labor and disposability of their bodies. The paper is based on the participant observation at the fertility unit/egg bank in Ukraine, 54 interviews with egg donors and surrogate mothers from Ukraine and 35 interviews with medical professionals and recruitment agents.
Polina Vlasenko is pursuing PhD degree in medical anthropology at Indiana University Bloomington. She received her BA degree in Political Science from the National University of “Kyiv-Mohyla Academy” in Ukraine and MA degree in Social Studies of Gender from Lund University in Sweden. Her research interests include production of biomedical knowledge about women’s fertility, biopolitics and population governance, assisted conception and new forms of kinship, as well as commodification and traffic of
human organs, tissues and cells. Specifically, her dissertation project explores the experiences of the Ukrainian women who take part in cross-border ova-donation arrangements.