Ethical Theory and Moral Practice

, Volume 7, Issue 1, pp 81–90 | Cite as

A Woman's Choice? — On Women, Assisted Reproduction and Social Coercion

  • Thomas Søbirk Petersen


This paper critically discusses an argument that is sometimes pressed into service in the ethical debate about the use of assisted reproduction. The argument runs roughly as follows: we should prevent women from using assisted reproduction techniques, because women who want to use the technology have been socially coerced into desiring children - and indeed have thereby been harmed by the patriarchal society in which they live. I call this the argument from coercion.

Having clarified this argument, I conclude that although it addresses important issues, it is highly problematic for the following reasons. First, if women are being coerced to desire to use AR, we should eradicate the coercive elements in pro-natalist ideology, not access to AR. Second, the argument seems to have the absurd implication that we should prevent all woman, whether fertile or not, to try to have children. Third, it seems probable that women's welfare will be greater if we let well informed and decision-competent women decide for themselves whether they want to use AR.

assisted reproduction autonomy coercion ethics feminism IVF women 


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. Boetzkes, E., Equality, Autonomy and Feminist Bioethics, in A. Donchin and L.M. Purdy (eds.), Embodying Bioethics, Recent Feminist Advances. Rowman and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999, pp. 121–139.Google Scholar
  2. Brazier, M., Reproductive Rights: Feminism or Patriarchy? in J. Harris and S. Holm (eds.), The Future of Human Reproduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998, pp. 66–76.Google Scholar
  3. Brock, D.W., Life and Death. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993.Google Scholar
  4. Donchin, A., Feminist Critiques of New Fertility Technologies; Implications for Social Policy. The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 21 (1996), pp. 475–498.Google Scholar
  5. Corea, G., The Mother Machine: Reproductive Technologies from Artificial Insemination to Artificial Wombs. The Women's Press, 1988.Google Scholar
  6. Harris, J., Rights and Reproductive Choice, in J. Harris and S. Holm (eds.), The Future of Human Reproduction. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998, pp. 5–37.Google Scholar
  7. Koch, L., IVF-an Irrational Choice?, Issues in Reproductive and Genetic Engineering 3(3), (1990), pp. 235–242.Google Scholar
  8. Lang, S.S., Women Without Children: The Reasons, the Rewards, the Regrets. New York: Pharos Books, 1991.Google Scholar
  9. Nozick, R., Coercion, in P. Laslett, W.G. Runciman and Q. Skinner (eds.), Philosophy, Politics and Society, 4th Series. Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1972, pp. 101–135.Google Scholar
  10. Purdy, L.M., What Can Progress in Reproductive Technology Mean for Women, The Journal of Medicine and Philosophy 21 (1996), pp. 499–514.Google Scholar
  11. Purdy, L.M., Assisted Reproduction, in P. Singer (ed.), Companion to Bioethics. Oxford: Blackwell, 1998, pp. 163–172.Google Scholar
  12. Robertson J.A., Children of Choice: Freedom and The New Reproductive Technology. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994.Google Scholar
  13. Rowland, R., Living Laboratories: Women and Reproductive Technologies. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1992.Google Scholar
  14. Sen, A., Well-being, Agency and Freedom, Journal of Philosophy 82(4) (1985), pp. 169–221.Google Scholar
  15. Singer, P., New Assisted Reproductive Technology, in P. Singer and H. Kuhse (eds.), Bioethics, An Anthology. Blackwell, Oxford, 1999, pp. 99–102.Google Scholar
  16. Sumner, L.W., Welfare, Happiness & Ethics. Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1996.Google Scholar
  17. Warren M.A., Sex Selection. Individual Choice or Cultural Coercion?, in H. Kuhse and P. Singer (eds.), Bioethics: An Anthology. Blackwell Publishers Ltd., Oxford, 1999, pp. 137–142.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2004

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas Søbirk Petersen

There are no affiliations available

Personalised recommendations