Fertility technology is changing the meaning of family

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On Sept. 30, Dr. Rachel Arocho, assistant professor of family science at Utah Valley University and graduate of Demography and Quantitative Research Methods, spoke about her research. She delineated a complex family tree, including the challenges and promises of fertility technologies and how they’ll change how we define family. It was featured in the Roots of Knowledge Speaker Series.

“Different types of families and roles change depending on fertility technology, technology changes the trajectories,” said Arocho. 

According to the CDC, “Assisted Reproductive Technology procedures involve surgically removing eggs from a woman’s ovaries, combining them with sperm in the laboratory, and returning them to the woman’s body or donating them to another woman.” 

Examples of reproductive technology include In Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Zygote intrafallopian transfer (ZIFT), Gamete intrafallopian transfer (GIFT), Intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI), Surrogacy, and Gestational Carrier, said Sart.org.

Arocho acknowledged a common concern with sperm donations: do donors count as parents? There is a biological link but legally they are not parents since “[you] don’t expect a donor to parent the child,” said Arocho.

Arocho said that there are three characteristics to families: genetics, history, and inheritance; love, intimacy, and shared lives; care, resources, and responsibility.

“We’re given a legal tie to a family: [in a family] we care for somebody, share our lives with someone,” said Arocho. “We have some family members that only fit in one aspect of family, families can be diverse.”

According to Arocho, culture often impacts whether couples want to have children or not, or how long they wait to do so. Because there are couples that wait longer to have children, there are more discussions now about fertility technology.

Addressing the concept of traditional families, “There has never been a normal family,” Arocho shared her experience as a donor-conceived child claiming that, “They redefine families within our lifetime.”

“I thought a lot about how my donor might look, if it was someone I knew or if I had maybe met him somewhere. It was not because I wanted to meet him, it was more curiosity towards him,” said Emma Groenbaek on Donor Conception Network. “I really started to understand what it meant that I was donor-conceived… it was important to me to speak about it.”

Arocho said that she reached out to the person that donated their sperm to her parents and they were willing to be a part of her life because “[they] were exercising their right to care.”

To read more about Arocho’s research and learn more about the Roots of Knowledge Speakers Series see their website.