The welfare of the child and the reproductive rights of adults

assisted fertilization
Assisted fertilization Stock Photo

Is it a right to have biological children? Should the treatment with assisted fertilization be accessible to all, or should availability be restricted? Should the unborn child's best be decisive and if so, in what way? This project examines how Swedish legislation and fertility clinics deal with these ethical dilemmas.

Ever since the first legislation that regulated treatment with assisted reproduction technologies (ART) was introduced in Sweden in 1984, the interests of the unborn child have been taken into consideration. For instance, the 1984 act banned anonymous sperm donors with reference to the child’s right to gain information about the donor’s identity. This regulation thus concerned a specific form of treatment, but the interests of the unborn child were also used in the preparatory reports for the act as an argument for making treatment with ART accessible only for certain groups of applicants. Same sex couples became entitled to treatment in 2005 and single women in 2016.

In addition to restrictions concerning certain groups of applicants, restrictions also include criteria concerning the capability as parents of individual applicants and when treatment involves donor gamete a special examination of the applicants’ social and psychological circumstances is required.

The project’s full title is ”The welfare of the child, the reproductive rights of adults and the responsibility of the welfare state”. The project is a collaboration with researchers from the faculty of medicine and is funded by the Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare


Regulation of treatment with ART

Through these policies, society has assumed responsibility for the welfare of the children who come into existence as the result of treatment with ART. The research project aims to analyse how the ethical dilemmas that concern the regulation of access to treatment with assisted reproduction are handled in policies and legislations. We further examine the discourse, on for instance the welfare and rights, the significance ascribed to genetic bonds, equal access to medical treatment of presumptive children and the responsibilities of the welfare state that constitute the premises for these positions and arguments (substudy 1).

The reasoning of clinic

Access to treatment with ART is to some extent regulated through national policies, but the decisions whether individual applicants or couples are offered treatment or not are made by staff at the fertility clinics. The project therefore also aims to analyse the positions, arguments and discourses that are expressed by clinic staff (substudy 2).

Assessments of parent potential

How can the capability to give a child a good upbring of a person who is not yet a parent then be assessed? As part of the project we will also examine how fertility clinics work with this kind of assessments, what information about the applicants is collected and what decisions are made (substudy 3).

About the researchers in the project

The project is a collaboration with Gunilla Sydsjö, Linköping University and Agneta Skoog Svanberg, Uppsala University. Gunilla and I met when we collaborated on a comment letter about a government inquiry report on adoption. My own interest in the assessment of parent potential originates from a study that compared the argumentative role of the best interests of the child in policies and regulations concerning adoption, assisted reproduction and fertility regulation in relation to women with intellectual disabilities, and from research about the assessments of adoption applicants in a research project led by Cecilia Lindgren.