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recomposed families into relief, and makes them visible. ˜Divorce is the point
at which marriage is of¬cially dissolved but it is also the point at which the
principles, assumptions, [and] values . . . surrounding marriage, family and
parenting are made explicit™ (Simpson 1998: 27). Indeed, Simpson suggests
that what is new is the extent to which such recompositions have become part
of the fabric of society. Marriages might dissolve and many would regret the
rate it has reached, but families reform. Creeping up on us, as it were, is a new
realisation of ways of arranging the relationships.
Embedded in these ordinary circumstances are pointers to what is also
interesting about biotechnology. It has become part of the social fabric: ˜ART
[assisted reproductive technology] is now clearly an integral part of society™,
to quote an observation from Western Australia (Cummins 2002). What has
been creeping up on us is a world in which, for example, the thought of
replacing parts of bodies “ or even the bodies of lost persons “ follows not
far behind knowing about techniques of organ transfer or hearing of claims
on a deceased spouse™s reproductive material. Assisted conception procedures
24 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


that offer remedy to those unable to have children also encourage people to
organise careers with an expectation of late parenthood. Obviously in this
area (of assisted conception), but also where family members must make
decisions in relation to one another, for example over prolongation of life at
birth or death, biotechnology has itself become a factor in the way people
manage their lives. It adds its own ¬eld of recombinations in what it takes
to conceive children. And it is partly the degree to which the applications of
biotechnology have in turn intervened in the formation of families that has
given us recomposed families. From her French perspective, Segalen writes:

[By adopting] new legal dispositions re¬‚ecting the new attitudes towards mar-
riage, and also echoing the development of biotechnologies since the 1970s, jurists
have disarticulated marriage and ¬liation [the recognised relation of succession
between parent and child]. More children . . . enjoy the bene¬ts of a paternal pres-
ence though the father [is not what he seems]. . . . The father, according to the
Napoleonic Code, was the man who gave his genes, gave his name, and daily
raised the child in his home. These three components of ¬liation have been dis-
associated in recomposed families.
Segalen 2001 : 25924

The jurists might have taken apart marriage and ¬liation but, as people
tell themselves, reproductive technology has already taken apart ¬liation and
conception. If you look at the regular nuclear family, you may well ¬nd that
the parents have been helped by a donor. What is true, then, of families legally
recomposed through divorce and adoption is also true of biotechnological
parentage, at least insofar as the fertile components that go to make up a child
may be drawn from diverse sources, diverse bodies.
We might surmise that families composed of other families, with children
already conceived, would be largely distinct from families seeking augmen-
tation through gamete donation or IVF. But the two kinds of recomposition
can come together. Again, divorce or separation makes that coming together
visible, and following the break-up of partnerships we hear much about, for
example, disputed rights of disposal over frozen embryos.25 This is the mo-
ment at which combinations have to be disentangled.26 To take one example,
the judgement in the Washington grandparents™ petition was subsequently
cited in a Rhode Island case involving a same-sex couple who had separated,
in which one of the pair applied for visiting rights to a child born to her part-
ner through arti¬cial insemination that she had helped organise (Dolgin 2002:
402“4). What weighed with the judges was the ˜parent-like relationship™ she
had had with the child for the four years they lived together, even though once
the visitation privileges had been won she forfeited her claims to parentage
25
RELATIVES ARE ALWAYS A SURPRISE


as such. In this case, the authority of the child™s ˜biological mother™ had to be
balanced against the interests of the other party asserting co-parental rights.
A complex nexus of possibilities is afforded not just by the law, then, but
also by biotechnology. Indeed, and to follow Franklin™s (2003:81) use of ˜re-
combinant™ as an epithet for certain kinds of conceptual relations, we might
borrow the metaphor again: such families are nothing if they not recombi-
nant. It would be to draw on a simple notion from a complex cellular process,
namely, that the techniques involving recombinant DNA were, at least when
new, described as permitting the ˜combination of genetic information from
very different organisms™ (Berg et al. 2002: 320). Biologists™ ability ˜to splice
and recombine different DNAs™ dates from 1973 (Reiser 2002: 7).
˜Recombinant™ is an apt term for the social forms these new families take27 ;
their formation is not just a matter of shuf¬‚ing parts around or submerging
parts in an undifferentiated whole but of cutting and splicing so that elements
work in relation to one another in distinct ways. To some extent, the elements
can be kept conceptually discrete. (You cannot undo a conception, although a
baby™s DNA will carry imprints that can separately identify each of its parents.28
You can block the social connotations of that conception, as routinely happens
when donor anonymity cuts off donors from their reproductive act.) I mean
recombinant, then, in the sense that in taking apart different components of
motherhood and fatherhood one is also putting them together in new ways, in
both conception procedures and in rearing practices, and then all over again
in combinations of the two.


thinking about relatives
There is much more going on than the ˜fragmentation™ of society. Euro-
Americans know that the thought of biotechnology marshals an extraordinary
range of hopes and fears; scientists™ own particular concerns with the devel-
opment of recombinant technology also date from the 1970s (Reiser 2002: 7).
They know technology itself is not to ˜blame™, yet many people cannot help
thinking that the new techniques draw out of them a new impetus to social
fragmentation in the form of sel¬shness.29 The hopes and fears somehow get
aligned, so that somewhat utilitarian hopes of medical advance or improved
treatments are pitched against fears about damage to society or even damage
to humanity in the way they think about themselves as ethical creatures. I have
wanted to put the complexity of some of the applications of biotechnology
into an arena of interpersonal relations already made complex by the kinds of
decisions that ordinary people “ with or without the help of the law “ make
all the time.
26 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


This is where relatives have the capacity to surprise us. Divorce rises; the
family remains popular. How can this be the case? Although particular families
break up, relationships often endure. We could even say the family dissolves but
the kinship remains.30 I have already touched on the fact that in Euro-American
culture, the body, insofar as its boundaries seem self-evident, can stand as a
symbol of the integrated person. Connections between persons are generally
thought of as lying outside the body, through all kinds of communication
and forms of association. Kinship, though, is where Westerners think about
connections between bodies themselves.31 Indeed, if they use the body to
think about the uniqueness of the individual, they also use it to talk about the
way persons are connected to one another, not through what they share in a
general way, as we might speak of all humankind as kin, but through what
has been transmitted in particular ways. So they trace speci¬c connections
(genealogies) and the network tells them how closely they are related (degrees
of relatedness). Modern knowledge of genetics endorses this way of thinking:
genes make each individual unique and connects it to many immediate “ as
well as countless more distant “ others.
Recombinant DNA, that is, DNA in its characteristic of separable and re-
arrangeable segments, invites human intervention. There is a tendency when
thinking about genes to stress connection, whether narrowly (the unique in-
dividual as the product of the nuclear family) or widely (all of humankind).
Recombinant DNA further invites us to ponder the disconnections, the ability
to take things apart and thus make them potentially parts of fresh constella-
tions. ˜Genes aren™t us™, the ethicist Julian Savulescu was reported as stating in
The Age (19 June 2002). He went on to say that we are not the sum of our genes
and genes do not determine who we are. I suggest that this is true in quite a
profound sense that would mimic the possibilities that biotechnology affords
them if they did not already antedate it. Ordinary knowledge about genetic
connection gives a choice; there might be no choice about recognising the
kinship constituted in the genetic connection itself (cf Strathern 1999b), but
people may or may not make active relationships out of these connections.
They may decide to ignore potential links. So fresh connections may or may not
ensue: persons can disappear completely from one™s life, or never seem to leave
it. In valuing or devaluing their relationships, relatives thus become aware of
the way they are connected and disconnected (cf. Edwards and Strathern 2000;
Franklin 2003). Recombinant families just make this very visible, showing how
cutting off ties leads to making others, or how household arrangements offer
innumerable permutations on degrees of disconnection.
So people already act out diverse ways of thinking about themselves: not
just as isolates set apart or as members of collectivities or groups but also as
27
RELATIVES ARE ALWAYS A SURPRISE


beings who value their connections to others, who “ when things are going
well, that is “ manage being at once autonomous and relational.32 The social
relations of kinship, we might say, set that process of management in train.
How to deal with one™s attachment to kin while also detaching oneself from
them is central to kinship in Western (Euro-American) society. Western kin-
ship regimes take to extremes the idea of bringing up a child to be independent,
not only as an independent ˜member of society™ but also as independent from
family and relatives. It does not take an expert to say this; Euro-Americans
already know it in the way they act. But in contrast to the huge investment
they make in the language and imagery of individuals or groups, they need
fresh ways of telling themselves about the complexities and ambiguities of
relationships.
There are two outcomes from all this for the way Euro-Americans imple-
ment their values. The ¬rst is evident in recombinant families and the oppor-
tunities for new connections. Divorce reorders kinship. If they take their eyes
off the units that are reformed and look instead at the trail of relationships,
they ¬nd families interconnected in new ways. Divorces link children, that
is, children now living in different families are linked through the dissolved
marriages of their parents33 :

If we talk of family in an uncritical way, the creative possibilities inherent in
kinship for the structuring of interpersonal relations are obscured. . . . The study
of divorce as a cultural expression of kinship, rather than as a social problem
with family, demonstrates the distinctiveness of western patterns of relational or-
ganisation . . . [and] it offers the prospect of locating distinctively Euro-American
patterns of kinship and putting them into comparative perspective.
Simpson 1994: 832

Simpson thus makes the positive suggestion that we should treat these linkages
as phenomena in their own right. It is clear that in valuing their relationships,
people already do.
The second outcome for the way Euro-Americans implement their values
concerns disconnections. In addition to dislocating kinship from families,
what about the way in which relationships, as the ongoing activation of social
ties, may be dislocated from kinship in the sense of genetic connection? Do not
the new ˜genetic families™, based as they often are on medical data kinspersons
share, give new dimensions to individualism (the self-reference of the medical
patient)? Dislocating relationships from kinship is of course inherent in donor
anonymity and is always the alternative after divorce or separation. Thus
Segalen™s (2001 : 260) recomposition may indeed add to pre-existing family
networks, so that, say, biological father and stepfather co-exist and work out a
28 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


modus vivendi, but in France at least this tends to be especially true of relatively
af¬‚uent, middle class families. In other sectors of society, recombination can
also erase previous unions, usually cutting off ties with the old father where
the new father adopts the children and gives them his name. And it can lead to
diverse ways in which the new units are viewed. One British instance (Simpson
1994: 834“5)34 invites us to consider the perspective of the grandparents: the
husband™s parents speak of having six grandchildren where the wife™s parents
speak of three; husband and wife would like to see all six of their children, the
offspring of four different marriages, treated equally, but the wife™s parents
only give treats to their own child™s children (by two marriages).
We have seen that both the generalised universal ˜family of man™ and the
close domestic family “ which probably calls itself ˜nuclear™, recomposed or
otherwise “ alike embody notions of exclusion. Those values of exclusion
make all the difference between families that defend boundaries and families
that emphasise recombinant relationships (so to speak) and thus live out their
idea of themselves as overlapping with others. In the former, when kin are cut
from one another, it is to extrude one set from outside the circle of the other
set, like the hapless Washington grandparents. Cutting thus externalises (the
grandparents then have to negotiate access). In the latter case, however, cutting
de¬nes the conditions under which families overlap, is internal to the ensuing
network. If there were no separation, no severance of couples at divorce, there
would be no recombination.35
Euro-Americans36 have no dif¬culty in imagining persons as different com-
binations of elements “ from genes and their environment, to the baby and
its nurturers,37 to someone™s relatives and circle of friends “ and each such
combination bestows an identity made distinct through the person™s relations
with the world. What biotechnology adds “ especially through the ARTs “
is the prospect of reading distinct social identities back into the very pro-
cess of conception (for instance, via gamete donation and its proliferation
of social sources).38 Yet in one sense indigenous (Euro-American) notions
of kinship already make persons combinations of other persons. This is not
a question of losing one™s identity but of specifying it: the fact that every-
one is a part of someone else is held to conserve the individuality of each
recombination.


this is less a conclusion than a shift in register. being parts of
others carries its own responsibility; how we (users of biotechnology) take
decisions entails how we de¬ne those responsibilities. Two debates from
29
RELATIVES ARE ALWAYS A SURPRISE


Australia are the impetus here. The ¬rst is an academic one, largely in re-
sponse to the way legal thinking has been in¬‚uenced by the technology, and is
inevitably inconclusive. The second concerns changes in clinical practice that
conclusively implement a response to public questions.
In their book, Are Persons Property?, the Australian feminist and legal theo-
rists, Davies and Naf¬ne, write about autonomy with reference to notions of
self-ownership and about the particular problem that a thoroughly ordinary
and everyday phenomenon, the pregnant woman, presents for the law. ˜The
pregnant woman and foetus are one legal person and that is the woman™ (2001 :
84). The counter-action, as we well know, is to claim the uniqueness of the
fetus, even to the point of claiming that it is a person in its right (Savill 2002:
50). But the law must continue to be equivocal. In their words, the facts of
reproduction render incoherent the notions of individualism on which these
views are based. The complexities of this situation are compounded by tech-
nological interventions that produce embryos outside the body. We return to
the issue of ownership, indeed persons as property, in Chapters Five and Six.
Here I pursue the observation that biotechnology has provided new ways of
conceptualising the individuality of the fetus.39 If ever we needed new ways of
thinking about persons as parts of persons, by contrast, the pregnant woman
is a paradigmatic case.
The remark is hardly new. Reassessing ˜The mother of the legal person™,
Savill (2002)40 notes how close the law can get. When the (British) Law Lords
had to take a decision on culpability in an appeal over a fetus killed through
injury done to the mother, speakers referred openly to the modern science of
human fertilisation and the light it had thrown on the reality of embryological
and fetal separateness. This in turn elicited a strong statement that there was
nonetheless ˜an intimate bond™ between a mother and the fetus dependent on
her body for its support. Lord Mustill is quoted as saying:

But the relationship was one of bond not identity. The mother and the foetus
were two distinct organisms living symbiotically, not a single organism with two
aspects.
Savill 2002: 44

The view was not powerful enough to displace the doctrine that the fetus has
no legal personality (it lacks full autonomy; as an incomplete human being,
it is in corporeal terms sui generis.). It also left out the extent to which the
maternal body is changed by pregnancy, and indeed becomes in its new state
dependent on the fetus for the completion of its developmental trajectory. This
is the point at which Savill (2002: 66) quotes Karpin™s illuminating suggestion
30 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


that we conceptualise the maternal body as a ˜nexus of relations™. Karpin does
not mean:

a relationship in which mother and fetus . . . are equal partners because that would
rely on a basic premise of distinction. The value of a nexus-of-relations perspective
is that it makes obsolete a notion of subjectivity that is dependent for its subject
status on distinction, separation and defensive opposition to others.
Karpin 1994: 46

I have one disagreement.41 I do not think we need be afraid of distinctions
and separations. In the same volume, Gatens (2002: 168) turns to Spinoza for
his understanding that individuals:

are not ˜atoms™ or ˜monads™ but are themselves made up of ˜parts™ that are in
constant interchange with each other . . . [such that] for an individual to endure
requires exchange, struggle and cooperation with other individuals, who are also
made up of parts.

Spinoza™s ethical“political ontology, she remarks, ˜facilitates understanding
difference as enabling identity and relations of interdependence as enabling
autonomy™ (2002: 169, my emphasis). Biotechnology has introduced into the
domain of body management the kinds of separations, cuts and combinations
that have always characterised relations between persons.
Yet the fact remains that Euro-Americans do not always talk about relations
very clearly. Some of their current dilemmas stem from those areas in which
the vocabulary for the interests at stake is exhausted.42 I have suggested that
certain aspects of biotechnology, such as recombinant genetics, offers fresh
ways of thinking about social arrangements and indeed about biotechnology™s
own interventions. Franklin (2003) provides an arresting account of people
moving in and out of the discourses of genetics in dealing with kin relations.
If so, the virtue is less the novelty of these discourses than their capacity
to bring people back to what they already know. They already ˜know™ that
mother and fetus are both separable and parts of each other; what is lacking
is an adequate language for this kind of relation. This limits the way in which
responsibilities are conceptualised. It is as though Euro-Americans could only
speak of each as either merged with or external to one another, an exclusive
unity or an exclusion of the one from the other™s interests. Yet (to put Spinoza™s
words into another frame) it is their separability that is at the basis of their
interdependency. If literal separation is the precondition for recombination in
the case of families, then in the case of mother and fetus separation is integral
to any relationship between them.43
31
RELATIVES ARE ALWAYS A SURPRISE


I would repeat that people already know this. But one reason for the shortage
of relational idioms is the overdetermination of other idioms. For when it
comes to legislation and litigation, a relationship is not (and cannot be) a
legal subject in Western (Euro-American) law. This is a problem we shall have
to live with. So the arguments remain fascinating but inconclusive.
Other problems are shifted, and the consequences of how people make
decisions have evident effect in the conclusions people draw.
Children born of donated gametes, and given the nature of the procedures
it is more likely to have been the sperm donor rather than the egg donor
who has been completely separated from the results of conception, are now
in the position of having to decide whether or not pursue their genetic pater-
nity. Members of Sydney™s Donor Conception Support Group are reported as
saying: ˜They just want to ¬nd out who they are. They don™t want replacement
parents™ (Sydney Morning Herald, 29 November 2001). Certain donors do not
wish even that, the same article goes on, ˜I would much prefer them to simply
say thank you, enjoy their mothers and fathers and get on with their lives™, said
one donor who threatened to take legal action if he was identi¬ed. Or it may
be a mother who makes such a decision on behalf of her child, as in the case of
the sperm donor who went to the Family Court in Melbourne to seek access
to a two-year-old boy; the Court was told that the child was not being de-
nied a relationship, just ˜an active parental relationship™ (Sun Herald, Sydney,
27 January 2002).44 Other decisions follow, such as an IVF clinic trying to elim-
inate anonymous donations altogether from their procedures because of the
ethical problems to which they give rise. ˜Nowadays, the clinic advises clients
to ask a friend or relative to provide sperm™, said a nurse (Sydney Morning
Herald, 29 November 2001).
˜Or relative™! A ¬nal surprise, then, sprung by relatives, in this case by
relatives who “ like friends “ are willing to donate to kin they know. If one
recalls all those early debates about anonymity being needed to protect the
nuclear family, saving it equally from intrusive strangers and the shadow of
incest, a wheel seems to have turned full circle. Seemingly, that problem has
been pushed to one side, and pre-existing kinship comes into its own.45 Of
course, it is not without complications. Edwards (1999; 2000) offers an account,
and it is one of the few fully ethnographic accounts, of the way English kinsfolk
weigh up such matters. Thompson (2001 : 174) describes a Californian fertility
clinic where friends and relatives are involved in gamete donation, and where
˜certain bases of kin differentiation are foregrounded and recrafted while other
are minimized™. Although this may be so that the intending parents come out
˜through legitimate and intact chains of descent as the real parents™, my focus
is on the separations and recombinations that make this possible. In one case,
32 KINSHIP, LAW AND THE UNEXPECTED


for example, the surrogate asked to gestate eggs and sperm from a husband“
wife pair was the husband™s sister. It was not counted as incest. It was a near
thing, though, and the sister joked that it was lucky she had her tubes tied
because that ensured that none of her own eggs would meet any sperm that
might accidentally be transferred with the embryo. A further case Thompson
(2001 : 187) cites is a co-venture of a kind that came to the fore from the early
days of IVF, namely mothers and daughters assisting one another, in this case
the daughter providing an egg to be inseminated by her mother™s husband.
The fact that he was her stepfather helped, but the fact that the egg contained
genetic endowment from the daughter™s father (mother™s former husband)
was not mentioned. In this case, the daughter was happy to have helped her
mother, but did not like thinking about the spare embryos that were not used
and that, outside her mother™s body, simply remained the creation of herself
and her stepfather.
Yet however painful, casual, taken for granted or requiring great effort it is,
relatives can probably handle the complex business of negotiating closeness
and distance, separating themselves from this part of procreation in order to
associate with that part. Is it because, regardless of what happens in other parts
of their lives, kinship has taught them to be adept at managing two kinds of
relations at once, not just connections but disconnections as well?


acknowledgements
Considerable thanks to the Julius Stone Institute and to Helen Irving and the
Law Faculty at the University of Sydney for the opportunity to participate
in the 2002 Macquarie Bank Lecture series Biotechnologies: Between Expert
Knowledges and Public Values. The Gender Relations Centre and Department
of Anthropology at the Research School of Paci¬c and Asian Studies, Australian
National University, Canberra, also my hosts, provided much further dis-
cussion; warm personal thanks to Margaret Jolly and Mark Mosko. I remain
grateful to the other authors of Technologies of Procreation for their continuing
insights; however, I have probably drawn more on Sarah Franklin™s (2001 b;
2003) re-conceptualisations than I realise. Janet Dolgin once again provided
me with something of a base, as did Alain Pottage. Monica Bonaccorso™s
study proved very informative, and Maria Carranza gave exceptional help in
acquainting me with current affairs in Australia.
2




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