“Baby Miles”: Reproductive Rights, Labor, and Ethics in the Transnational Korean Reproductive Technology Industry
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This dissertation examines the transnational circuits of the assisted reproductive technology (ART) industry in South Korea to demonstrate how the concepts of reproductive rights and labor have been contested, negotiated, and reconstructed by various actors—including infertile couples, gamete donors, gestational surrogates, state agents, and medical professionals—across national boundaries. This study envisions reproductive ethics as part of a transnational feminist agenda by examining the ethical issues raised by the complicated relationships between intended parents and gamete donors/surrogates. Although feminist scholars and bioethicists address issues of how intended parents practice their reproductive rights and how egg providers/surrogates’ bodies are commercialized and exploited as they navigate the transnational ART industry, very little exists in the way of an integrated framework that allows us to understand the interdependent relationships between intended parents and gamete providers/surrogates, even though both are “users” of ART technologies as well as “patients” of medical procedures. Furthermore, while current research successfully examines the ethical problems of the transnational ART industry, it unintentionally reinforces the binaries between Asian women as exploited objects and White Westerners as liberated subjects. In order to address these issues within the current literature, I position this project to dispute the unilateral understanding of ART by focusing on the complex relationships between Korean intended parents and non-Korean gamete providers and surrogates. In order to analyze the transnational circuits of the ART industry, I use the term “baby miles” to show the great distances people, capital, and technology travel as they interact in the baby-making process. Drawing on three years of multi-sited ethnographic research conducted in Seoul, Bangkok, Taipei, and Kiev, which included in-depth interviews with 60 people as well as participant observation, I argue that while the increased baby miles create unprecedented legal, social, and ethical issues, prohibiting commercial baby-making industries and returning to a “local baby” is not a solution as it reinforces both the ideology that motherhood is “natural” and the stratified reproduction system.