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Accepted Paper:

Dead Women’s Living Wombs: Doing Birth at the Intersection of Death and Life  
Burcu Mutlu (Ozyegin University)

Paper short abstract:

Through media analysis, two Turkish cases of techno-birth —brain death pregnancy and transplanted womb— will be examined to assess new biotechnological interventions and the evolving symbolic-material boundaries and potentials of women's bodies, living or deceased, in the 21st century.

Paper long abstract:

In 2008, Yıldız Alçı, a 26-year-old woman who was 24 weeks pregnant, suffered from meningitis, resulting in brain death. To sustain the foetus in her womb, she was kept on life support. Three weeks later, Alçı’s disconnection from life support resulted in a popularly termed “miracle birth,” a first in Turkey and the 14th case worldwide. In 2011, another biotechnological birth occured as a womb from a brain-dead donor was transplanted to 23-year-old Derya Sert, born without a uterus. The hope was to offer a viable alternative for surrogacy. This first-ever attempt at a cadaveric uterus transplant led to a live birth almost a decade later, followed by the immediate removal of the transplanted uterus. In both cases, the uterus fulfilled its "function" at childbirth, prompting the following question: To what extent are women's bodies, living or deceased, open to new biotechnological interventions and operations for (bio)value extractions in the realm of birth?

Combining feminist science and technology studies with medical anthropology, this paper will address this question to reveal how reproduction becomes a socio-technological site of (re)making life and death. In this context, women’s bodies are instrumentalized for both ideological and biological reproduction of the sacred (heteronormative) family. Through the exploration of media representations of these two cases of techno-birth, this paper intends to elucidate the new forms that the boundaries and potentials of women's reproductive capacities have taken in the 21st century. This occurs concurrently with the politicization and technologization of reproduction in selectively pronatalist Turkey and beyond.

Panel P141
Doing and undoing reproduction [Medical Anthropology Europe [MAE]
  Session 1