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The acceptable face of parenthood: The relative status of biological and cultural interpretations of offspring in infertility treatment

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The aim of this exploratory study was to investigate a small group of infertile women's perceptions of their need to create a family within current postmodern societal family practices. The relative weightings of biological relatedness and cultural conformity are interpreted within theoretical models of parenthood, and the need for cognitive consistency. Forty-two women attending infertility clinics for treatment to overcome childlessness were given a retrospective questionnaire to determine what the effects of the infertility diagnosis were. The importance of a genetic link was assessed in relation to choices made on treatment options to overcome infertility. Half the sample was devastated by their inability to have a child, and nearly two-thirds could not foresee a future without a family. Preparedness to disclose the mode of starting a family through adoption, IVF and surrogacy was prevalent, although fewer individuals would be willing to disclose egg and particularly sperm donation to the child, family or friends. This pattern was repeated in individuals who believed a genetic link was important. The results suggest that unwillingness to disclose non-genetic means of creating a family demonstrates a lack of resolution, or cognitive dissonance to some types of third-party involvement, particularly in donation of genetic material. The influence of the ideal family portrayed by society through culturally reinforced biological/evolutionary means may be responsible for the irreconcilability between the technological creation of a genetic nuclear family, and one created by technological third-party or socially constructed means. The implications of medically achieved non-genetic offspring on perceived acceptable societal family structures are addressed.
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Keywords: COGNITIVE DISSONANCE; GENETIC LINK; IN VITRO FERTILIZATION; INFERTILITY; SURROGACY; TRADITIONAL FAMILY

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 01 August 2001

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