Sunday, March 21, 2010

Guarding Turkey's 'Soy'?

The Health Ministry has announced a regulation that would effectively make it a criminal offense to use a foreign sperm or egg donor to conceive a child using artificial insemination. From Hurriyet Daily News:
With domestic egg and sperm donations already banned, Turkish women seeking to become pregnant have now been prohibited from receiving similar fertility treatments abroad by a new regulation seeking to “protect the country’s ancestry.”

According to İrfan Şencan, the director of the Health Ministry’s Health Services Department, the recent amendment to the law was made to “protect the ancestry, to make the newborn’s father and mother known.”

. . . .

The new regulation says, “Spouses will only be able to receive cells belonging to each other. Using a donor in any [other] way is prohibited.” If a center in Turkey performs an operation using a sperm or egg donation taken from a member of an unmarried couple, or transplants an embryo, the facility will be closed indefinitely and all personnel working there will likewise be barred from working at similar centers.

Since sperm and egg donations and using a surrogate mother are both banned in the country, many Turkish people have been applying to centers abroad to have sperm or egg transplants performed, recent media reports have said. The new regulation bans this practice as well.

In addition, Turkish doctors and medical centers are also prohibited from leading or encouraging couples to have sperm or egg donations performed abroad, or even informing them about the possibility. Centers that recommend a foreign facility or mediate between Turkish couples and doctors abroad will be closed for three months for their first offense. Centers that continue to do so will be closed indefinitely by the governor’s office, according to the new regulation.

The amended law says that complaints about facilities that perform sperm or egg donations or send patients to either foreign or domestic centers for such procedures will be filed with the public prosecutor’s office, along with complaints against the woman and the donor.
A woman breaking the law faces a three year prison sentence. The new regulation did not go through parliament, but rather takes advantage of an existing law in Turkey's penal code (Article 231) that makes it a criminal offense to obfuscate a child's parentage. The BBC quotes women's rights activist Pinar Ilkkaracan:
This is completely against the philosophy of the reformed penal code.

We spent years fighting to improve the law so that it would properly protect women's autonomy over their bodies and sexuality.

This government has slipped this regulation in without any debate in parliament.
Motivation for the regulation is unclear, but there is plenty of speculation, that the law is partially inspired by a concern to protect Turkey's bloodline (soy). Following the Kocaeli earthquake in 1999, Turkey's health minister at the time banned foreign blood donations from Greece entering the country, citing concerns about protecting the integrity of Turkish blood. The decision was widely detested at the time, and still does not sit well with many Turks. Sencan rejects this as the reason, and in defense of the measure, cited similar regulations in "Christian countries." Perhaps religion is more behind the new law than race, though it is also likely both are at play here and the result is a further restriction on women's bodies. (From the reportage I've seen, it seems only women can be tried under the criminal provisions and not their husbands or partners who might have also been involved in the decision -- not that including husbands or male partners would make the law less of an exercise over a woman's body and reproductive decision making.)

Today's Zaman columnist Nicole Pope writes that the law will prohibit couples from conveiving children, and relaying the sotry of a friend who conceived using artificial insemination, discusses the concept of soy, patriarchal notions of family, and its impact on women.
In this traditional society, women are under great pressure to produce children. We all remember Prime Minister Erdoğan’s call for them to bear at least three offspring. For years, I witnessed the trials and tribulations of a friend who was unable to conceive. She had to contend with the jibes of in-laws who viewed her as imperfect because of her inability to bring the heir they expected. Relatives would even urge her husband to swap her for a more fertile “broodmare.” Thankfully he resisted, but one of his uncles discarded four “sterile” wives, causing them untold misery, without ever admitting that he could have been the source of the problem.

Eventually my friend and her husband managed to conceive through IVF, but they had to seek medical help in secret because they feared relatives would disapprove or even reject their offspring.

At the heart of the matter lies a patriarchal definition of the family, linked by blood ties that need to be protected and kept pure no matter what. Taken to its extreme, this approach is responsible for most of the violent attacks reported against women in this country, whether it is a young girl killed for refusing to marry the partner chosen by her parents or a wife punished by a violent husband when she seeks to leave an abusive relationship.
The focus on reproduction and traditional views of the family might also help explain Minister for Women and Family Selma Aliye Kavaf's recent comments on homosexuality being a "disease" in need of treatment. See also Jenny White's blog post on this subject, including comments, for more discussion of the new regulation.

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