Assembling Viability: The Art of Mundane Embryo Selection in IVF

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One of the mundane everyday practices of IVF is observing and classifying embryos. After the fertilisation, embryos are graded according to their quality which is an estimation of whether the embryogenesis—the embryo’s development—seems normal or deviant. This practice is called embryo selection and it is based on assessing the ‘good quality’ embryos as viable and ‘poor quality’ ones as inviable. Viability refers to the capacity of embryos to develop into foetuses and eventually become babies. However, the question of what kinds of embryos ultimately are viable is a complex issue, which also hinges upon several other factors than the quality estimation. This paper shows that the idea of embryo viability is an assemblage of multiple kinds of things. The paper is based on multi-sited ethnography and expert and patient interviews conducted in the private fertility service sector of Finland. I argue that embryo viability is a practical achievement that requires the successful combination of several factors: the scientific facts on embryo quality, the expert knowledge and laboratory practices and the patients’ engagements in the process. None of these factors alone is enough to explain the precarious embryo viability which nevertheless is the central issue in IVF.
Original languageEnglish
Issue number1
Pages (from-to)1-22
Number of pages22
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2019
MoE publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Fields of Science

  • 5141 Sociology
  • IVF
  • embryo selection
  • viability
  • laboratory practices
  • ethnography

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