'Reproductive Precarities': The Case of Swiss-Spanish Egg-Provision Arrangements

After years of trying to get pregnant, a couple from Switzerland travels to Alicante for egg donation. // A student in Barcelona living in harsh conditions donates her ovum for 900 Euros to an IVF-clinic that offers its services to international clients. // After getting pregnant through egg donation in Barcelona, a 40 year old Swiss woman finds out in the regular antenatal screening that her child has high chances of having Down-Syndrome.

At first sight, these fictive biographies inspired by recent media reports (Zuber 2013; Frieden 2014; Arnet 2015; Stockrahm et al. 2015) are just different “reproductive stories“. Yet they are all part of the same precarious context in which reproduction takes place in a transnational fertility business. This business is based on different forms of vulnerability, insecurity and risk. The couple from Switzerland experiences political precarity; as egg donation is prohibited in Switzerland, they are forced to travel abroad to fulfil their dream of a family. The student in Spain considers the rapid spread of IVF-clinics as a chance to overcome her situation of economic precarity. Reproductive diagnosis instruments are generating medical precarity as prenatal tests not only evaluate the ableness of the baby, but also put social pressure on the parents to optimize the pregnancy. Finally, the described precarities are reflected in feelings such as emotional instability, hope, sorrow etc. This emotional precarity is a central but double-edged part of reproductive tourism itself, promising a loophole out of the different precarious situations, but being at the same time the very fundament which reproductive tourism is build on.

This project seeks to contribute two major innovations: On the empirical level, it aims at analysing political, economic, medical and emotional precarities in relation to reproductive technologies through a case study about egg-provision arrangements between women in Switzerland and Spain. On a conceptual level though, the project will develop the concept of reproductive precarities through a qualitative in-depth analysis of reproductive biographies of egg providers and egg receivers with a special focus on the entanglements of different reproductive technologies in highly technologized pregnancies. The overall research question will focus on how the transnational market of egg donation is engaging with different forms of precarity. Further, the aim is to give a deep account on the lived experiences of egg donation as a practice embedded in specific biographies. The research questions will be answered through ethnographic research, with a focus on biographical and visual methods.


Doc.CH (Swiss National Science Foundation)

Project Timeline

2016 - 2020

Involved Researcher

Laura Perler, University of St. Gallen

Collage Stammbaum Schweiz Spanien