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Assisted reproductive technologies and epigenetics: an ethnographic study of prospective parents’ experiences, perspectives and imaginations in Norway

The overall objective of the study is to understand prospective parents’ experiences, perspectives and imaginations of reproductive technologies within the particular Norwegian context.

About the project

After the birth of the first test tube baby in the UK in 1978, the use of assisted reproductive technologies (ARTs) has increased enormously. Not only does ARTs represent intimate experiences, they have also proven to be of public importance, exemplified by the heavy discussions of such technologies in political and public debates. Technological advances in the field, such as epigenetic research, raise further questions concerning the status of the embryo itself, but also the social impact of such increased knowledge.

This ethnographic study explores prospective parents’ experiences and perspectives of contemporary ART practices and treatment, starting from the idea that these experiences do not take place in a subjective vacuum, but are shaped within a particular socio-cultural and political context. Prospective parents represent a fruitful point of entry to understand reflections of the process of treatment more generally and how these experiences are shaped within the particular Norwegian context. Based on such a contextual approach, the project further aims to explore and understand prospective parent’s experiences and perceptions of the status of the embryo, and embryo donation, research and selection, particularly in light of increased epigenetic knowledge. Epigenetic knowledge provide possibilities of improving the assessment of pre-implantation embryos by epigenetic characterization to improve the result of fertility treatment, yet it also raises questions about how parents experience new technologies and the use of them. Furthermore, epigenetics raise debates about maternal responsibility for offspring’s wellbeing. Prospective parents might provide interesting insight into how, or if, such information is understood and put to use.


The aims of the project are:

  • To understand how prospective parents experience contemporary ART practices and treatment within its specific historical, political and cultural context.
  • To examine how prospective parents experience and perceive the status of the embryo – in light of increased scientific knowledge and control over human embryos in research and fertility treatment
  • To explore how and to what extent increased epigenetic knowledge influence parents’ conceptions of the female body and maternal responsibility


This project is part of a larger interdisciplinary research project titled ‘Epigenetics and bioethics of human embryonic development’ financed by UiO: Life Science. This larger project’s main aim is to understand the epigenetic reprogramming of early embryo development and its significance for human reproduction both scientifically and ethically. The consortium consist of principle investigators from basic medical sciences, reproductive medicine, humanities and the social Sciences.

This postdoc is supervised by Kari Nyheim Solbrække


UiO: Life Science


Epigenetics and bioethics of human embryonic Development

Start - Finish

2018 – 2020

Published Oct. 19, 2018 8:11 AM - Last modified Jan. 20, 2020 8:34 AM