Academy Researcher Fellow, Gender Studies, Sociology & STS
Tampere University & University of Helsinki

Kone Foundation project

Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalisation (ReproEthics)

The ReproEthics project is an interdisciplinary and international project funded by the Kone Foundation (2019-2022). It takes as its focus the ethics of reproductive technologies: Ethical evaluation essential to the acceptance, regulation, dissemination, participation in, and marketisation of reproductive technologies.  Ethical deliberation is done by all kinds of actors in the arena of reproductive technologies, such as policy makers, bioethicists, medical professionals, market players, patients, and donors of reproductive tissue and of reproductive labour. The project brings together methods, perspectives, and scholars from social science and the academic field of bioethics in order to examine ethics. It explores a wide variety of cases of technological practice that have, or may in the future, become normalised as uncontroversial in some (delimited) cultural contexts.

The cases chosen form five subproject the project is divided into. The focus of subproject I is 1) ethnic minorities suffering from fertility disruptions. Subproject II examines 2) trans and intersex treatments, such as the so-called gender reassignment and sex affirmation. Subproject III studies 3) womb related technologies (uterine transplants, artificial wombs and ectogenesis) and subproject IV studies 4) the use of reproductive health data resources. Finally, subproject V explores 5) the practices of reproductive tissue industry, offering gametes and wombs for transplantation or surrogacy.

The outputs of the project can be found here.

People

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Dr. Mwenza Blell

Senior researcher

I’m a biosocial medical anthropologist and I’m interested in gender, sex, reproduction, and technology. I like to work in collaboration and in innovative ways. I’m currently working on research projects which address to the ways that health-related data are being talked about, collected, shared, used, marketed, and managed in new ways. This includes data from electronic health and social care records, from wearable technologies, mobile phones, social media, and genomic and other omic data. Data and data-driven technologies are topics with increasingly obvious contemporary political relevance. As an ethnographer, my work makes possible a very thorough consideration of important aspects of the broader socio-cultural, historical, and political context in which health data and healthcare systems are situated.

Because I have worked with both quantitative (biological anthropological, epidemiological) and qualitative (social anthropological) methods and have been involved in research with public health-related aims as well as work which is critical of public health initiatives, I’m able to look at health-related data and technologies from more than one angle. I can understand the scientific side of health data science as a user of such data and to evaluate claims about what insights bigger ‘real world’ data can deliver from a scientific point of view. In addition, I can consider a bigger picture view that takes in society and understand that while health can be considered a good thing to promote, people’s experiences and views about data surveillance and health care systems really vary and in many places there are health inequalities along various axes, geographic, ethnic, gender, class, etc.

Our collaboration in the Kone Foundation funded ‘Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalisation’ project is an exciting one which will allow me to explore both sociology and queer bioethics in more depth. My interest in the complex ethical principle of justice drives me to think about health care and health data from the perspectives of those who might be least well-served by the systems we have now and the ones which are being built and, most importantly, to think about what it would take to make these systems more just. I hope the collaboration will offer me new ways to think and write about the ethics of health data, reproductive technologies, and health care systems.

I am also collaborating with highly skilled artists on a project called ‘Artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning in healthcare: exhibition-situated arts-based public engagement and empirical ethics’ which will use an experimental exhibition of speculative futures to evoke ethical deliberation about aspects of health data-driven technological development. The work will be aiming to reach and influence both experts and the general public as patients and data subjects.

You can contact me at mwenza.blell[at]tuni.fi.

Dr. Mwenza Blell

Senior researcher

I’m a biosocial medical anthropologist and I’m interested in gender, sex, reproduction, and technology. I like to work in collaboration and in innovative ways. I’m currently working on research projects which address to the ways that health-related data are being talked about, collected, shared, used, marketed, and managed in new ways. This includes data from electronic health and social care records, from wearable technologies, mobile phones, social media, and genomic and other omic data. Data and data-driven technologies are topics with increasingly obvious contemporary political relevance. As an ethnographer, my work makes possible a very thorough consideration of important aspects of the broader socio-cultural, historical, and political context in which health data and healthcare systems are situated.

Because I have worked with both quantitative (biological anthropological, epidemiological) and qualitative (social anthropological) methods and have been involved in research with public health-related aims as well as work which is critical of public health initiatives, I’m able to look at health-related data and technologies from more than one angle. I can understand the scientific side of health data science as a user of such data and to evaluate claims about what insights bigger ‘real world’ data can deliver from a scientific point of view. In addition, I can consider a bigger picture view that takes in society and understand that while health can be considered a good thing to promote, people’s experiences and views about data surveillance and health care systems really vary and in many places there are health inequalities along various axes, geographic, ethnic, gender, class, etc.

Our collaboration in the Kone Foundation funded ‘Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalisation’ project is an exciting one which will allow me to explore both sociology and queer bioethics in more depth. My interest in the complex ethical principle of justice drives me to think about health care and health data from the perspectives of those who might be least well-served by the systems we have now and the ones which are being built and, most importantly, to think about what it would take to make these systems more just. I hope the collaboration will offer me new ways to think and write about the ethics of health data, reproductive technologies, and health care systems.

I am also collaborating with highly skilled artists on a project called ‘Artificial intelligence, big data, and machine learning in healthcare: exhibition-situated arts-based public engagement and empirical ethics’ which will use an experimental exhibition of speculative futures to evoke ethical deliberation about aspects of health data-driven technological development. The work will be aiming to reach and influence both experts and the general public as patients and data subjects.

You can contact me at mwenza.blell[at]tuni.fi.

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Tiia Sudenkaarne

PhD Researcher / Postdoc Researcher

Working in the Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalization project, I will complete my PhD on queer and feminist bioethics at University of Turku of Practical Philosophy. My theoretical background consists of analytical philosophy and gender studies, which I have found to bridge fascinatingly by feminist and queer bioethics, both interrogating the legitimacy of cis- and heteronormativity in ethical sense-making for a more just and accurate representation of the human condition in terms of gender and sexual diversity. My research topics in the project include trans and intersex diagnostics and ”treatment” as stipulated in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a global guideline governed by WHO. I will also examine the bioethical status of people identifying as muunsukupuolinen in the current Finnish treatment context.

After obtaining my PhD, I have the pleasure of staying with the project for post-doc research on womb-related technologies, such as womb-transplantion and the ethical arguments justifying the strive for achieving full ectogenesis, human life without human gestation. I argue there are grounds for specifically gendered concerns as what makes womb-related technologies and ectogenesis so appealing to some is the promise of eliminating the cumbersome role of women’s reproductive work. However, to others, they offer relief from biological burden or a way to achieve gestation (trans women).

You can contact me at tiia.sudenkaarne[at]tuni.fi

Tiia Sudenkaarne

PhD Researcher / Postdoc Researcher

Working in the Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalization project, I will complete my PhD on queer and feminist bioethics at University of Turku of Practical Philosophy. My theoretical background consists of analytical philosophy and gender studies, which I have found to bridge fascinatingly by feminist and queer bioethics, both interrogating the legitimacy of cis- and heteronormativity in ethical sense-making for a more just and accurate representation of the human condition in terms of gender and sexual diversity. My research topics in the project include trans and intersex diagnostics and ”treatment” as stipulated in the latest version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), a global guideline governed by WHO. I will also examine the bioethical status of people identifying as muunsukupuolinen in the current Finnish treatment context.

After obtaining my PhD, I have the pleasure of staying with the project for post-doc research on womb-related technologies, such as womb-transplantion and the ethical arguments justifying the strive for achieving full ectogenesis, human life without human gestation. I argue there are grounds for specifically gendered concerns as what makes womb-related technologies and ectogenesis so appealing to some is the promise of eliminating the cumbersome role of women’s reproductive work. However, to others, they offer relief from biological burden or a way to achieve gestation (trans women).

You can contact me at tiia.sudenkaarne[at]tuni.fi

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Poelman muokattu2

Sanna Poelman

PhD Researcher

As a social anthropologist, I am interested in the interlinkage between biomedicine, reproduction, technology and morals/ethics. During my master’s studies, I focused on risk management in childbirth and examined comparatively how risk is envisioned, experienced and mitigated in both a hospital and a home birth setting. What could be concluded from my ethnographic study in the Republic of Ireland was that risk in childbirth is not something static or neutral, but constructed and acted upon in different manners depending on the actors involved. Particular desired outcomes navigate how risk is managed, which again is based on the knowledge framework employed. Perceptions of risk are not only linked to questions of what constitutes a ‘normal’ birth, but also to how birth ought to happen, which makes the discussion inherently a moral/ethical one.

In February 2020, I started as a PhD researcher in the project ‘Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalization ‘, where I will be conducting research in the subproject on ethnic minorities suffering from fertility disruption. I am excited to dive deeper into the field of reproduction and bioethics, and to be part of an international and interdisciplinary research group. 

 

Sanna Poelman

PhD Researcher

As a social anthropologist, I am interested in the interlinkage between biomedicine, reproduction, technology and morals/ethics. During my master’s studies, I focused on risk management in childbirth and examined comparatively how risk is envisioned, experienced and mitigated in both a hospital and a home birth setting. What could be concluded from my ethnographic study in the Republic of Ireland was that risk in childbirth is not something static or neutral, but constructed and acted upon in different manners depending on the actors involved. Particular desired outcomes navigate how risk is managed, which again is based on the knowledge framework employed. Perceptions of risk are not only linked to questions of what constitutes a ‘normal’ birth, but also to how birth ought to happen, which makes the discussion inherently a moral/ethical one.

In February 2020, I started as a PhD researcher in the project ‘Technology, Ethics and Reproduction: Controversy in the Era of Normalization ‘, where I will be conducting research in the subproject on ethnic minorities suffering from fertility disruption. I am excited to dive deeper into the field of reproduction and bioethics, and to be part of an international and interdisciplinary research group. 

 

Research Outputs

Publications

Tammi, Ronja. 2020. Ihmisen alkuja, biosisaruksia ja hukkaan heitettäviä tavaroita: Munasolun toimijuuden olemus yksityisten hedelmöityshoitoklinikoiden internet-sivuilla ja munasoluluovuttajien haastatteluissa [Human Origins, Bio-Siblings, and Discarded Goods: The Essence of Oocyte Agency on the Websites of Private Fertility Treatment Clinics and in Interviews with Egg Donors] (Master’s thesis, Tampere University). http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:tuni-202005044922 .
 
Sudenkaarne, Tiia. 2019. Queering Vulnerability: A Layered Bioethical Approach. Suomen Antropologi: Journal of the Finnish Anthropological Society43(3), 73-90. https://doi.org/10.30676/jfas.v43i3.82734.
 

2019 M. Blell. (Invited Participant) Commentary panelist to Professor Jade Sasser. Reproductive Justice, Population Control and Environmental Sustainability symposium organised by Lisäntymisen tulevaisuus –project. Helsinki, Finland.

2019 M. Blell. (Invited Participant) Roundtable: The politics of ‘developmental origins’: biological mattering and social justice. American Anthropological Association/Canadian Anthropology Society Joint Annual Meeting. Vancouver, Canada.

2019 M. Blell. “Beyond concern? Reflecting on genomic data and the times in which we live” Invited plenary talk and rapporteur feedback at GenoPri19 conference in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

2019 M. Blell. “Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility” Invited joint seminar between the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, University of Washingon, USA.

M. Blell. “Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility” Invited Seminar in the Sociology 2025 Seminar Series at University of Helsinki, Finland. 

2019 M. Blell. (Invited Participant) Commentary panelist to Professor Jade Sasser. Reproductive Justice, Population Control and Environmental Sustainability symposium organised by Lisäntymisen tulevaisuus –project. Helsinki, Finland.

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2019 M. Blell. (Invited Participant) Roundtable: The politics of ‘developmental origins’: biological mattering and social justice. American Anthropological Association/Canadian Anthropology Society Joint Annual Meeting. Vancouver, Canada.

2019 M. Blell. “Beyond concern? Reflecting on genomic data and the times in which we live” Invited plenary talk and rapporteur feedback at GenoPri19 conference in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

2019 M. Blell. “Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility” Invited joint seminar between the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, University of Washingon, USA.

M. Blell. “Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility” Invited Seminar in the Sociology 2025 Seminar Series at University of Helsinki, Finland. 

Invited Talks

2019 M. Blell. (Invited Participant) Commentary panelist to Professor Jade Sasser. Reproductive Justice, Population Control and Environmental Sustainability symposium organised by Lisäntymisen tulevaisuus –project. Helsinki, Finland.

2019 M. Blell (Invited Participant) Roundtable: The politics of ‘developmental origins’: biological mattering and social justice. American Anthropological  Association/Canadian Anthropology Society Joint Annual Meeting. Vancouver, Canada.

2019 M. Blell. “Beyond concern? Reflecting on genomic data and the times in which we live”. Invited plenary talk and rapporteur feedback at GenoPri19 conference in Boston, Massachusetts, USA.

2019 M. Blell. “Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility” Invited joint seminar between the Department of Anthropology and the Department of Human Centered Design and Engineering, University of Washingon, USA.

M. Blell. “Ethics, politics, and data in Finland: Pregnant with sterility” Invited Seminar in the Sociology 2025 Seminar Series at University of Helsinki, Finland. 

 

Conference Presentations

International Academy of Law and Mental Health (IALMH), Rome, 21.-27.7.2019: Chair and organizer of Feminist and Queer Bioethics panel

2019 M. Blell and Riikka Homanen. ‘The Medicine World Needs Great Data, and Finland’s Got It’: a Qualitative Study. ESA 2019: European Sociological Association. Manchester, UK.

Edited volumes and special issues

Co-Editor, Journal of Ethics, Medicine and Public Health‘s special issue on LGBT bioethics, forthcoming 2020