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Acquiring a patient status: a necessary redefinition of the boundaries of the intimate during the courses of medically assisted procreation (MPA) in Italy (Lombardy).

Léa Linconstant

Research Framework: Italian laws define assisted reproductive technology (ART) as a treatment to cure a peculiar disease: infertility. The courses of ART are drawing a specific form of connection between a medical context and the constitution of families since the pregnancy haven’t even occurred yet.

Objectives: The purpose of this article is to question the way relationships, which are tied along the procedures, produce new boundaries in conjugal and parental intimacy. Intimacy is define in this article as the exclusive connection between the members of a couple.

Methodology: The analysis is based on an ethnographic study of a public unit of ART in Italy where I was allowed to observe professionals practician (gynecologists, clinical biologists, nurses). A corpus of interviews, fifty of them made with ART professionals, more than thirty with couples or infertile women who had, at least, one experience with in-vitro fertilization, is complementing the observations.

Results: The ART’s courses can’t be taken as standard processes where the relations and status would not be submitted to evolutions. On the contrary, every position and status (patient or practician) are being modified and evolves within the operations on the body and relationships between the all protagonists. The temporality, thus, is an essential parameter that helps to realize what’s at stake during these courses and the diversity in intentions and relations that goes along with it.

Conclusion: Infertility and ART’s treatments have a particular status: the elusive therapeutic definition we can give of them as well as the questionable utilization of the term “patient” to qualify those who start one of these processes is not a simple case. The acquirement of patient status is something that is evolving step by step through a “progressive desingularization” of the couple and its story.

Contribution: This article is a contribution to the reflection on third party’s position in the process of ART. Though, whether in my ethnography there is no recourse to a donor – we’re strictly speaking about intra-conjugal ART – the course of procreation is a collective action where a third party is involved, a necessary character that does not belong to the couple: the medical corps.