“Who Should Be Fertile” and “How Should They Be Fertile”: Reproductive Politics Around the Use of Reproductive Technologies in South Korea
This paper aims to contextualize the emerging “new in-fertile subjects” in the transnational Korean reproductive technology industry by examining the process of the normalization of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) in Korean society. In South Korea, social perceptions about the use of ARTs have changed dramatically, and what was once viewed as a dangerous technology is now seen as a technology of hope in line with the nation’s pronatalist policies. In order to solve the low fertility rate crisis, the South Korean government has enacted and revised several laws and policies since 2005 to encourage infertile couples to use ARTs. While the strong stigma attached to infertile women has weakened during this process, individual women’s health risks have tended to be overlooked because the use of ARTs is condoned and controlled via population policy rather than reproductive health rights. By analyzing mass media discourse, laws, and policies regarding ARTs in South Korea, this paper concludes that although ARTs have created new in-fertile subjects who might not have ever expected to be parents, including disabled women, older women, same-sex couples, and single individuals, the normative family ideology and stratified reproduction system in South Korea have not been disrupted because of the selective supports offered by the government, which continually classify eligible infertile patients and acceptable reproductive technologies.
Sunhye Kim is a PhD candidate in Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland. She completed her M.A. thesis “The Infertility Treatment Industry and the Politics of Reproduction in South Korea” in the Department of Sociology at Yonsei University. She conducted a research project “Assisted Reproductive Technology and Reproductive Rights: The Relationships Between Infertile Women and Surrogates in South Korea,” which was supported by a grant from the Korean National Institute for Bioethics Policy. Currently, she is working on her doctoral dissertation, “Baby Miles”: Reproductive Rights, Labor, and Ethics in the Transnational Korean Reproductive Technology Industry. Her research interests are assisted reproductive technologies, biomedical ethics, sexual and reproductive rights, transnational feminism, Korean studies, and qualitative research methods.