Reproductive & Genetic Technologies


The birth of Louise Brown, the world’s first 'test-tube baby', occurred on 25 July 1978 in Oldham, northwest England, and homo technicans – our tecnology obsessed species -  has never looked back. The in vitro fertilization that made Louise possible has been joined by dozens of additional procedures that take reproduction out of the human body and involve more than two people plus medical staff – all in an effort, ostensibly, to overcome growing infertility in humans – thanks largely to the adverse impact of everyday chemicals.  But this noble – on the face of it – intention justifying this powerful technology has been belied, as with other very powerful technologies, by a number of unintended – yet fully foreseeable – consequences. Today, forty-five years on, and especially in the less affluent regions of the world (India, Russia) there is a virtual industry of poor women whose gestational capacities and the babies these produce are sold by baby brokers to affluent families. We now await the 'perfection' of the artificial womb.

As early as the late 1980s, accelerating to the present, these reproductive technologies have been joined by ever more powerful technologies of genetic modification (‘germline,’) aimed at manipulating the genetic properties of embryos and thus, eventually children and adults, in humans and animals. Once again, these genetic technologies have been presented, ostensibly, to address problems in the health of human children, but in fact, are used for sex selection (guess which sex wins?) and trait manipulation to suit the will and choice of scientists, physicians and parents.

Today, the frightening contours of a Brave New World of negative repro and genetic tech consequences are visible alongside any positives to anyone who cares to look. Yet the fact that by far the most effective ways to address infertility and infant disability is by improving environmental, socio-economic and medical conditions for mothers has more or less disappeared from view and discussion.  In the late 1980s and through the 1990s, writing as part of a movement of critical scientists, feminists, sociologists, environmentalists and ethicists, Varda called out these developments and potential consequences with prescience and passion. Some of her work is offered here.

Annual anthology: The Dystopia of Our Times: Genetic Technology and Other Afflictions. The Socialist Register 2000. Vol. 36. Leo Panitch and Colin Leys, eds. Merlin. London (UK). 

Documentary films: Main basse sur les gènes and Clonage (ou l’art de se faire doubler). Office national du film du Canada / National Film Board of Canada. 1999.  Montreal.  Film Series

Series consultant and English-language on-camera interviewer. Directed by Louise Vandelac and Karl Parent. Multiple awards in the United States, Canada and France.

Magazine and anthologies: Breeding Discontent.  Saturday Night, June 1993. 

Excerpted in Reader’s Digest, October 1993. Nominated for National Magazine Award 1993. 

Anthologized in Misconceptions: The Social Construction of Choice and the Reproductive and Genetic Technologies, Gwynne Basen, Margrit Eichler and Abby Lippman, eds. Voyageur Publishing. Hull 1993.  

Magazine: Making Babies. Canadian Forum Magazine. April/May 1993.

Anthology: Making Perfect Babies in Rethinking the Future: Canada’s Liveliest Minds Take on the 21st Century. Patricia Elliott, ed. 1993. Fifth House Publishers, Saskatoon.

Anthology: Rethinking the Future: Canada’s Liveliest Minds Take on the 21st Century. Patricia Elliott, ed. 1993. Fifth House Publishers, Saskatoon. 

Royal Commission submission: The New Reproductive Technologies: A Technological Handmaid’s Tale. With the NAC Reproductive Technologies Committee. National Action Committee on the Status of Women brief to the Royal Commission on New Reproductive Technologies. October/June 1991. Toronto. 

Radio documentary: Technologizing Procreation. IDEAS. CBC Radio. 1991. Two hour-long documentaries on the new reproductive and genetic technologies, including interviews with German experts and activists.

Film documentaries: On the Eighth Day: Perfecting Mother Nature - Making Babies (hour 1) and Making Perfect Babies (hour 2).  National Film Board of Canada/Cinefort. 1991. Premiered on CBC television’s documentary program, Witness. Multiple award winner, Canada, US, France. Directed by Gwynne Basen. Produced by Mary Armstrong. Series consultant Varda Burstyn.