Gamete Donation and ‘Race’


Examining processes of gamete donation offers an opportunity to expose ideas about ‘race’ and examine perceptions about the racial substance that is ‘passed on’ from donor to offspring. Racial categories are of interest in the context of gamete donation because established ideas about the transmission of racial markers between generations and within racialised communities infuse the way in which donation is organised in clinical settings. The use and maintenance of these categories in donation practice has wider political implications because it reinscribes and re‐legitimises problematic and contested categories. This short article begins with an overview of the conceptual challenges associated with categorisations of race, considers the subsequent complexities of differentiating gamete donors in racial terms and concludes with a discussion of the implications of these debates for clinical practice, kinship relations and beyond.

Key Concepts

  • Ideas about the existence of discrete racial groups have been largely resigned to the history of scientific racism and colonialism.
  • Despite their contested nature, racial categories endure as a powerful visible signifier for relatedness and belonging in biological terms as well as carrying ideas about cultural and social relatedness, which are highly pertinent in understanding kinship.
  • Gamete donation, a form of assisted reproduction, offers a useful lens through which to expose ideas about race and examine perceptions about the racial substance that is ‘passed on’ from donor to offspring.
  • The ways people think about and select donors based on their racial or ethnic identities are often flexible and contingent and can therefore be at odds with commonly understood or clinically defined racial categories.
  • Whilst it is unlikely that racial categorisation will be omitted from use in assisted reproduction practices, we should remain cautious about the value that is attributed to such characteristics, particularly in relation to the growing globalised market in fertility treatment.

Keywords: ethnicity; assisted conception; gamete donation; reproduction; matching


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Further Reading

Culley L, Hudson N and Van Rooij F (eds) (2009) Marginalized Reproduction: Ethnicity, Infertility and New Reproductive Technologies. UK: Earthscan.

Rothman BK (2005) Weaving a Family: Untangling Race and Adoption. USA: Beacon Press Books.

Wade P (ed) (2007) Race, Ethnicity, and Nation: Perspectives from Kinship and Genetics. New York: Berghahn Books.

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Hudson, Nicky(Jun 2015) Gamete Donation and ‘Race’. In: eLS. John Wiley & Sons Ltd, Chichester. [doi: 10.1002/9780470015902.a0005596.pub2]