Situating commercialization of assisted reproduction in its socio-political context: a critical interpretive synthesis

Narcyz Ghinea, Miriam Wiersma, Ainsley J. Newson, Catherine Walby, Robert J. Norman, Wendy Lipworth*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
27 Downloads (Pure)


BACKGROUND: In many countries, ART service provision is a commercial enterprise. This has benefits, for example, creating efficiencies and economies of scale, but there are also concerns that financial imperatives can negatively impact patient care. The commercialization of ART is often conceptualized as being driven solely by the financial interests of companies and clinicians, but there are in fact many complex and intersecting socio-political demands for ART that have led to, sustain and shape the industry.

OBJECTIVE AND RATIONALE: To use the academic and policy discourse on the commercialization of ART to build a theoretical model of factors that influence demand for ART services in high-income countries in order to inform potential policy responses.

SEARCH METHODS: We searched electronic databases for journal articles (including Web of Science, Scopus, PubMed) and websites for grey literature, carried out reference chaining and searched key journals (including Human Reproduction, Fertility and Sterility). The terms used to guide these searches were 'assisted reproductive technology' OR 'in vitro fertilization' AND 'commerce' OR 'commercialisation' OR 'industry' OR 'market'. The search was limited to the English language and included articles published between 2010 and 2020. We used an established method of critical interpretive synthesis (CIS) to build a theoretical model of factors that influence demand for ART services in high-income countries. We developed initial themes from a broad review of the literature followed by iterative theoretical sampling of academic and grey literatures to further refine these themes.

OUTCOMES: According to contemporary academic and broader socio-political discourse, the demand for ART has arisen, expanded and evolved in response to a number of intersecting forces. Economic imperatives to create sustainable national workforces, changing gender roles and concerns about the preservation of genetic, national/ethnic and role-related identities have all created demand for ART in both public and private sectors. The prominence given to reproductive autonomy and patient-centred care has created opportunities to (re)define what constitutes appropriate care and, therefore, what services should be offered. All of this is happening in the context of technological developments that provide an increasing range of reproductive choices and entrench the framing of infertility as a disease requiring medical intervention. These socio-political drivers of demand for ART can be broadly organized into four theoretical categories, namely security, identity, individualization and technocratization.

LIMITATIONS REASONS FOR CAUTION: The primary limitation is that the interpretive process is ultimately subjective, and so alternative interpretations of the data are possible.

WIDER IMPLICATIONS: Development of policy related to commercial activity in ART needs to account for the broad range of factors influencing demand for ART, to which commercial ART clinics are responding and within which they are embedded.

STUDY FUNDING/COMPETING INTERESTS: This work was supported by a National Health and Medical Research Council Ideas Grant (APP1181401). All authors declare that they have no conflict of interest in relation to this work.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberhoac052
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalHuman Reproduction Open
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Copyright the Author(s) 2022. Version archived for private and non-commercial use with the permission of the author/s and according to publisher conditions. For further rights please contact the publisher.


  • assisted reproduction
  • commerce
  • business
  • IVF
  • infertility
  • health policy
  • demand
  • qualitative study
  • critical interpretive synthesis


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