Frictions with autonomy and future fertility: Towards a feminist empirical bioethics of social egg freezing

Onderzoeksoutput: PhD Thesis

18 Downloads (Pure)


As the number of women freezing their eggs for so-called social reasons increases year-overyear in several Western societies, literature flourishes around ethical issues raised by this procedure. A central line of reasoning within the literature is the emancipation argument which holds that social egg freezing (SEF) enhances women’s individual autonomy, hence their emancipation, in an important step towards greater gender equality. While this debate is not yet settled, existing bioethics literature has yet to engage directly with actual women’s motivations and the assessments of moral reasonings which they bring to bear on their decisions around SEF. This article-based dissertation aimed to bridge the gap by analysing how, in terms of individual autonomy and related concerns of emancipation, women morally understand and experience social egg freezing. I engaged in dialogue with 21 women who were interested in this procedure, based on an innovative Socratic method vis-à-vis critical, ethical reflections on the practices and experiences of SEF. My empirical findings facilitated four sketches better contextualising the emancipation argument and tensions around it. First, challenging the stereotype of selfish and career-driven women choosing SEF, participants’ decisions were shaped by concerns about relationship formation. Second, highlighting the emotionally charged and cyclical nature of their decisions, SEF seemed to function as a risk ritual practiced in neoliberal societies: participants tended to take self-responsibility by taking actions to avoid anticipated decision regret. Third, although I questioned the career-woman stereotype, participants’ relatively privileged social positions showed a degree of affluence and higher-education attainment that influenced their perception of timing for parenthood and asserted a condition of agency in planning and manipulating decision times. Fourth, the question of whether they should be reimbursed for the cost of SEF was a morally relevant topic in most participants’ viewpoints although it is often treated as a side note in bioethics literature. To conclude, I argue that SEF could enhance some women’s reproductive autonomy—but social and relational conditions (including access to financial resources and other forms of privilege that shape their decisions) call for critical attention. Because SEF is not inherently xi emancipatory, it is dubious to co-opt this technology as an instrument for gender equality: its introduction may exacerbate social inequalities that exist between women, and this possibility raises reproductive justice concerns that deserve more attention. Neither burying nor adulating SEF’s emancipatory potential, this dissertation depicts diverse ethical concerns by considering the moral understandings of actual women directly involved in this practice.
Originele taal-2English
Toekennende instantie
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Coene, Gily, Promotor
Datum van toekenning21 apr 2022
StatusPublished - 2022


Duik in de onderzoeksthema's van 'Frictions with autonomy and future fertility: Towards a feminist empirical bioethics of social egg freezing'. Samen vormen ze een unieke vingerafdruk.

Citeer dit