Physiognomy, familism and consumerism: Preferences among Jewish-Israeli recipients of donor insemination

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This paper examines the physiological preferences of Jewish-Israeli donor insemination (DI) recipients regarding the desirable donor.1 For the absence of Arab participants in this study, see footnote 9. By comparing recipients' own physiognomy with that of a hypothetical donor, we explore some of the social potentials of DI in its emerging democratized form. We examine prevailing notions regarding the 'natural family' and 'family resemblance' and query the relative weight of the natural vs. the consumer model as applied to one's own family through considerations regarding physical appearance. While examining the 'natural family' concept as a limit in the making of actual Israeli families, we consider the meanings of choice in the context of procreative technologies. The study may also provide practitioners with relevant information for donor matching. The paper is based on questionnaires delivered in four sperm banks during the years 1995-1998. It is important to note that the preferences we study are hypothetical, as in Israel no choice is offered and donor matching is performed exclusively by doctors.2 This was the situation in 1995 when we started collecting our data. Since then, DI recipients are offered, by two sperm banks (not included in the present study), to choose from a list of donors' profiles. Many recipients are, however, unaware of the option and address the other, secretive clinics. One of the new clinics is currently studied in a separate research. All sperm banks guarantee a thorough medical screening of potential donors' health. Three comparisons serve as vehicles for characterizing the gaps between the natural and the consumer model: women's preferences regarding the donor's appearance vs. their male partners' appearance; men's preferences vs. their own features; single women's preferences vs. those of married ones. The paper ends with a discussion of the social implications of democratized DI on family, gender power relations and social hegemony.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)363-376
Number of pages14
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002


  • Choice
  • Donor insemination
  • Israel
  • Physiognomy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Health(social science)
  • History and Philosophy of Science


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