Assisted reproduction and Middle East kinship: a regional and religious comparison

Marcia C. Inhorn, Daphna Birenbaum-Carmeli, Soraya Tremayne, Zeynep B. Gürtin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This article compares the use of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and resultant kinship formations in four Middle Eastern settings: the Sunni Muslim Arab world, the Sunni Muslim but officially 'secular' country of Turkey, Shia Muslim Iran and Jewish Israel. This four-way comparison reveals considerable similarities, as well as stark differences, in matters of Middle Eastern kinship and assisted reproduction. The permissions and restrictions on ART, often determined by religious decrees, may lead to counter-intuitive outcomes, many of which defy prevailing stereotypes about which parts of the Middle East are more 'progressive' or 'conservative'. Local considerations – be they social, cultural, economic, religious or political – have shaped the ways in which ART treatments are offered to, and received by, infertile couples in different parts of the Middle East. Yet, across the region, clerics, in dialogue with clinicians and patients, have paved the way for ART practices that have had significant implications for Middle Eastern kinship and family life.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-51
Number of pages11
JournalReproductive Biomedicine and Society Online
StatePublished - Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
In short, the globalization of ART into diverse regions of the Middle East serves as a potent reminder that kinship is of major importance, and that new reproductive technologies with potentially transgressive social potential often still serve to re-inscribe fundamental principles of kinship and family life. A Middle Eastern comparison juxtaposing Jewish versus Muslim, Sunni versus Shia, secular versus theocratic and 'conservative' versus 'progressive' forces also proves that many of these dualisms require scholarly interrogation. In matters of kinship and assisted reproduction, the convergences between countries such as Israel and Iran are more apparent than the divergences. This finding may be counter-intuitive, but is nonetheless helpful in deconstructing prevalent Middle Eastern stereotypes. Marcia C Inhorn is the William K Lanman, Jr. Professor of Anthropology and International Affairs at Yale University, CT, USA. A specialist on Middle Eastern gender, religion and health, she has conducted research on the social impact of infertility and assisted reproductive technology in Egypt, Lebanon, the United Arab Emirates and Arab America over the past 30 years. She is the author of six books on the subject, including her forthcoming, America’s Arab Refugees: Vulnerability and Health on the Margins . Her current research project is on oocyte cryopreservation for both medical and elective fertility preservation, funded by the US National Science Foundation.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 The Author(s)


  • Islam
  • Judaism
  • Middle East
  • assisted reproductive technology
  • kinship
  • third-party reproduction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • Cultural Studies
  • Reproductive Medicine
  • Developmental Biology


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