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Islam and the Biotechnologies of Human Life

The MacMillan Center’s Council on Middle East Studies (CMES), in conjunction with the University of Oxford Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Fertility and Reproduction Studies Group, hosted an international, interdisciplinary conference on “Islam and the Biotechnologies of Human Life” at Yale University, September 18-20, 2009. The conference brought together scholars from the United States, Europe, and the Middle East to discuss the influence of Islamic attitudes on the practice of “assisted reproductive technologies” (ARTs), which are used to conceive human life in cases of intractable infertility.

Presentations covered a range of groundbreaking topics, including: legal, religious, and bioethical debates about the use of ARTs in the Muslim world; ethnographic studies of the effects of ARTs on parents and children in Muslim families; new Islamic rulings on cutting edge reproductive technologies, such as gamete donation and surrogacy; the implications of ART policies on gender roles in Muslim countries; and comparisons of different views and practices of ART use across the Muslim world.

A major focus of the conference was the “Iranian ART revolution”: namely, Shia authorities in Iran have promoted the use of third-party reproductive assistance (i.e., donation of eggs, embryos, and sperm, as well as gestational surrogacy). The promotion of third parties in Iran (and in Lebanon, which has followed the Iranian lead) has led to so-called “reproductive tourism” from the Sunni Muslim world, where a strict ban on third-party reproductive assistance is currently in place.

The conference featured a truly interdisciplinary group of scholars, including anthropologists, physicians, Islamic legal scholars, and bioethicists. Papers were given by Arthur Caplan (University of Pennsylvania), Morgan Clarke (University of Cambridge), Thomas Eich (University of Tübingen), Zeynep Gürtin-Broadbent (University of Cambridge), Sandra Houot (Catholic University of Lyon), Marcia C. Inhorn (Yale University), Pasquale Patrizio (Yale University), Gamal Serour (Al-Azhar University), Farouk Mahmoud (Imperial College, Hammersmith Hospital), Shirin Garmaroudi Naef (University of Tübingen), Mansooreh Saniei (King’s College, London), and Soraya Tremayne (University of Oxford).

The conference was convened by Marcia C. Inhorn, the William K. Lanman Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs and Chair of CMES, and Soraya Tremayne, Director of the Oxford Fertility and Reproduction Studies Group, who together co-edit a series on “Fertility, Sexuality and Reproduction” for Berghahn Books. The conference proceedings will appear in this book series.