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Making Muslim babies: Sunni versus Shi’a approaches to IVF and gamete donation

Marcia C. Inhorn, University of Michigan

As early as 1980, a number of authoritative fatwas issued from Egypt’s famed Al-Azhar University suggested that in vitro fertilization (IVF) and similar new reproductive technologies are permissible as long as they do not involve any form of third-party donation (of sperm, eggs, embryos, or uteruses). However, since the late 1990s, divergences in opinion over third-party donation have occurred between Sunni and Shi’ite Muslim religious authorities, with Iran’s leading ayatollah permitting egg, sperm, and embryo donation under certain conditions. This paper, based on three periods of medical anthropological research carried out in Sunni Egypt and mixed Sunni-Shi’ite Lebanon, examines official and unofficial religious discourses surrounding the practice of IVF and third-party gamete donation in the Muslim world. The gender implications of donation—particularly the introduction of egg-donor programs in the Shi’a Muslim world—will also be explored.

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Presented in Session 9: Infertility and new reproductive technologies