Religion guides views of fertility treatment in Middle East

SEATTLE---Among Muslims, reproductive technologies can clash with deeply held religious beliefs about the importance of biologically based kinship, family life and parenthood.

U-M researcher Marcia Inhorn has used medical anthropology methods for the last 20 years to study infertility and in vitro fertilization in the Middle East---where Israel and Lebanon are home to some of the highest per capita numbers of in vitro fertilization (IVF) centers in the world.

Inhorn, an associate professor of health behavior and health education and of anthropology, presents a talk titled "Finding 'Culture' in Science and Biotechnology: Perspectives From Medical Anthropology" at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science Feb. 14.

In qualitative, ethnographic interviews with nearly 400 patient couples, Inhorn has identified major differences in cultural attitudes toward reproductive technologies between Shi'ite Muslims in Lebanon and Sunni Muslims in Egypt. Results of her work in Egypt are part of a 2003 book, "Local Babies, Global Science: Gender, Religion, and In Vitro Fertilization in Egypt."

Egypt's first fatwa, or religious proclamation, on medically assisted reproduction came in 1980, not long after the first IVF baby was born in England. More than 90 percent of Egypt's citizens practice Sunni Islam.

Sunni religious rules state that IVF is allowed, but that since marriage is a contract between a husband and wife, no third party should intrude into procreation, thus prohibiting such things as sperm or egg donation.

Most leaders of Shi'a Islam, the minority branch of Islam found in countries including Iran, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan and India, concur with Sunni religious authorities about the strict prohibition on third-party donation.

But in the late 1990s, an Iranian leader issued a fatwa stating egg donation "is not in and of itself legally forbidden." Inhorn notes that Shi'ites pract

Contact: Colleen Newvine
University of Michigan

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