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SEX IN AN AGE OF TECHNOLOGICAL REPRODUCTION -
A SYMPOSIUM AND DEBATE

The University of Lincoln, 9th - 10th November, 2009


Call for Papers

On 14th February (Valentine's Day) 1969, the journal Nature published a paper authored by members of the Cambridge Physiological Laboratory, RG Edwards, BD Bavister and clinician PC Steptoe. Entitled "Early stages of fertilization in vitro of human oocytes matured in vitro", the paper drew fierce criticism from much of the scientific, medical and religious establishment of the UK and abroad. 40 years on, it is clear the paper opened up a whole new field of interdisciplinary study that has embraced science, medicine, ethics, the law and social anthropology. It is currently estimated that more than 5 million IVF births have taken  since then.

Twenty three years after the in vitro paper, another profoundly significant discovery in the field fertility science was made, this time in Belgium.  In 1992, Gianpiero Palermo, Hubert Joris, Paul Devroey and André C. Van Steirteghem published their sensational paper in Lancet, in which they announced the successful fertilisation of a human egg with a single sperm by direct injection under the microscope, followed by re-insertion of the egg into the woman's uterus. ICSI - 'intracytoplasmic sperm injection' - has now become the most powerful tool for the treatment of male infertility: well over 250,000 ICSI babies have been born since 1992.

These remarkable scientific and medical developments have radically disrupted the historical connections between sex and reproduction. It now seems every day another barrier or taboo is broken asunder. Witness the daily flow of news headlines concerning 'lifestyle' fertility treatment, stem cell research,  designer babies, young women freezing their eggs (putting 'motherhood on ice'), controversies surrounding human fertilisation and embryology ('do families need fathers?'), concerns over the long-term health risks of IVF babies, egg donation and surrogate pregnancies ('baby born to three sisters'),  genetic engineering and reprogenetics (the fusion of fertility treatments with the biogenetics industry), babies being fathered from beyond the grave (witness the recent case of the Blood family), and much more besides.

2009 being the 40th anniversary year since the publishing of the Edwards, Bavister and Steptoe paper, The University of Lincoln is working with one of the world's most renowned  scientists, Professor Carl Djerassi, to present a two-day symposium in Lincoln.

We welcome papers that explore the social, political, cultural and ethical implications behind the rapid developments in ART (assisted reproductive technology) since the discovery of IVF and the development of ICSI.

Carl Djerassi - who this year celebrates his 86th birthday and is one of the world's most famous scientists - is Professor of Chemistry emeritus, at Stanford University, USA, where he also taught in the Human Biology, Biomedical Ethics, and Feminist Studies programmes. He is best known for the chemical synthesis of the Contraceptive Pill in 1951, which many people argue triggered the social revolution of the 1960s and is today seen as a major sociological event. During the past twenty years he has turned to fiction and the theatre, with a series of Science-in-Fiction novels and Science-in-Theatre plays that have been translated into 16 languages and performed all over the world.

To provide provocation and a locus for debate, the conference will open with a performance of Carl Djerassi's short dialogic classroom play, ICSI: A Pedagogic Wordplay for Two Voices (n which Djerassi will feature) and will draw to a close  with a  rehearsed reading (with professional actors) of Djerassi's most recent full-length theatre play, Taboos. Professor Djerassi will also be giving a keynote talk, entitled, The Divorce of Sex and Reproduction: Is There A Guilty Party?

It was Djerassi's so-called 'invention' of the pill that gave the world sex without children and brought sexual freedom to millions of women. His extraordinary scientific achievements in the area of human reproduction (or more precisely, control over reproduction) therefore puts him in a unique position to reflect on the whole issue of assisted reproduction, a theme he has investigated in his science-in-fiction novels and science-in-theatre plays.

Djerassi says, "Science is inherently dramatic because it deals with the new and unexpected. But does it follow that scientists are dramatic personae, or that science can become the stuff of drama?" He continues, "can 'science-in-theatre' also fulfil an effective pedagogic function on stage, or are pedagogy and drama antithetical? Must the urge to educate be an automatic kiss of death when writing for the theatre?"

We would therefore also be pleased to receive proposals for papers which examine the role, function, and/or purpose of the rapidly emerging genre science-in-theatre, or that explore the interface between scientific ideas and the drama/theatre.

No topic is as provocative and complex as the present questioning of the social meaning of parenthood and family. Taboos, the story of an extended family spiralling outward by unorthodox ways and means, has many parallels in the real world. Every month there are new cases which forces churches, courts and society at large to come to terms with increasingly wide definitions of parenthood ranging from relatively straightforward in-vitro fertility treatments through heterosexual surrogacies to demand from the gay community to be allowed to be loving parents.

Through this symposium, and the performances of ICSI and Taboos, we are hoping to stimulate debate about ART and the surrounding issues. Following the performance of Taboos, the audience will have the opportunity to express their thoughts in the discussion element of this event with Prof Carl Djerassi, amongst others.


Submissions Guidelines:

Symposium Dates: 9th and 10th November 2009. Starting at 5.00pm (on 9th) and finishing at 8.30pm (on 10th).

Abstracts: 500 words, and include paper title, contributor's name, email address, professional or academic affiliation and a brief CV. Deadline for Receipt: Friday 23 October 2009.

Please email all abstracts to: Mr Andy Jordan ([log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]>  and Prof Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe ([log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]> ). Applicants will be notified of their acceptance or rejection by Wednesday 28th October 2009. Important additional information/supplementary notes about the symposium can be emailed to interested parties and applicants on request. Please contact: Daniel Meyer-Dinkgräfe ([log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]> ), or [log in to unmask] <mailto:[log in to unmask]>

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