International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Shirin Garmaroudi Naef

PhD Project

Assisted Reproductive Technologies in Iran from an Anthropological Perspective: Legal and Jurisprudential Responses and Social Dynamics

This dissertation has examined Shia attitudes towards assisted reproductive technologies, and has looked at the regulations and the social uses of these technologies in Iran. Assisted reproductive technologies including gamete and embryo donation as well as surrogacy are legal in Iran and are being practiced at Iranian IVF clinics; this is while complying with the laws and regulations regarding its appropriate use has mainly been influenced by Shia juridical moral concerns, particularly with regards to the ontological and moral status of the human embryo, adultery, incest, marriage and filiation. This dissertation has explored some aspects of a religious legal hermeneutic strategy that have shaped the Iranian attitudes towards reproductive technologies. It has described some prevalent juridical moral values surrounding reproduction, kinship and sexuality that are influential in the context of the Iranian regulations and legislation (e.g. law of embryo donation and surrogacy act). The focus is on the structures, principles and semantics embedded in the conceptualisation of assisted conception and in the social uses of reproductive technologies. I have analysed reproduction as a process through which the foundational structures and perceptions of a society and its dynamics are reproduced and contested rather than a sexual act or as simply the combination of male and female reproductive substances.

Moreover, by focusing on dynamics of law, morality and religion, I have attempted to reflect on the articulation between legal (hoquqi), Shia Islamic legal discourse (fiqhi) and ethical (akhlāqi) issues, as well as social and institutional practices in the interpretation, application, and on-going redefinition of assisted reproductive technologies in a complex field in which religious authorities, legal experts, medical practitioners, would-be parents and donors, directly or indirectly, interact with one another. Thus, the main focus is on the interactions between the new reproductive practices, religious-legal deliberations, state regulations and social dynamics, that are different sources of knowledge and power through which the social uses of assisted reproductive technologies are articulated. My emphasis is, therefore, on the social relations, individual practices and institutional structures, rather than tending to consider the emergence of technology as a causal phenomena in relation to social process. I have argued that the Iranian approach towards reproductive technologies involves all stakeholders - religious and seculars, state and private - and reflects an interconnection between religious juridical deliberations and secular ethical principles. This interconnection between ‘religious’ and ‘secular’ realms, I have argued, is not specific to this particular domain. It mirrors in many ways the more characteristics and dynamics of the contemporary Iranian society in both individual and institutional terms.

The methodological approach for this research is a combination of ethnography conducted between 2005 and 2011 in Iran, and textual analysis of important contemporary academic and religious seminary publications in Iran, from Shia Jurisprudence and Persian histories to the analysis of laws and verdicts. My study includes more than 200 interviews and discussions with Iran’s fertility and IVF specialists, doctors, embryologists, biologists, religious authorities, jurist and legal experts, infertile couples undergoing infertility treatments such as egg donation and surrogacy, as well as gametes and embryo donors and surrogates.


Personal Data

Shirin Garmaroudi Naef is an anthropologist and was, from 2009 to 2012, a doctoral fellow and member of the Research Training Group Bioethics at the International Centre for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW) at the University of Tübingen, funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). Moreover, in 2011, She was awarded a visiting PhD fellowship at the University of Manchester, Department of Social Anthropology. She graduated in Social Anthropology, Islamic Studies and General Linguistics at the University of Bern, Switzerland in 2008. Her thesis was titled “Sibling Intimacy in the Age of Assisted Reproduction: An Ethnography of New Reproductive Technologies in Iran. Prior to that, She studied Theatre in Tehran, and earned her BA in English Language Translation from Azad University in Tehran in 2000. Her areas of interest and research include anthropological theories of kinship, human reproduction, and the body, anthropology of secularity, religion, law and morality, historical sociology, bioethics, Shia jurisprudence (fiqh) and ethics (akhlāq), and anthropological studies of contemporary Iranian society.

CV as pdf.


2014. “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Traditional Ontologies: An Anthropological Reflection on Assisted Reproduction in Iran”, in Ranisch, Robert; Schuol, Sebastian and Rockoff, Marcus (eds.), Selbstgestaltung des Menschen durch Biotechniken, Tübingen: Francke (forthcoming)

2013. “The Birth of Embryo Donation and Surrogacy in Iran”, in Schreiber, Jenny; Eich, Thomas and Clarke, Morgan (eds), Conference Proceedings of the International Conference: Health Related Issues and Islamic Normativity, pp. 102-116, Halle: Menalib, Online Publication. 

2012. “Gestational Surrogacy in Iran: Uterine Kinship in Shia Thought and Practice”, in Inhorn, Marcia C. and Tremayne, Soraya (eds), Islam and Assisted Reproductive Technologies: Sunni and Shia Perspectives, pp. 157-193, New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books. (peer reviewed)

2008. Gestational surrogacy in Iran (in Persian). Medical Journal of Reproduction and Infertility 9 (1): 50-64. (peer reviewed)

Upcoming and recent talks and papers

2014. EASA 2014, Tallin, Estonia: Beyond 'nature-culture' - Kinship and motherhood in light of egg donation and surrogacy in Iran, Panel (co-convener) “Rethinking assisted conception: dynamics of law, morality and religion”, July 31- August 3.

2014. IUAES 2014, Tokyo, Japan: Technologies of cloning and our human future: a Shia theological perspective, Panel (co-convener) “Future(s) with/of the human body”, The Japanese Society of Cultural Anthropology (JASCA) Conference & IUAES Inter-Congress 2014, May, 15-18.

2014. University of Hamburg, Germany: The Iranian embryo donation law and surrogacy act, Workshop “The social politics of Islamic bioethics”, organized by Prof. Dr. Thomas Eich, Jenny Schreiber and Morgan Clarke, January 9-11.

2013. AAA Chicago 2013 Meeting: The moral status of the in vitro human embryo: The Iranian context, Invited Session, “A Four Field Anthropology of Fetuses”, Annual meetings of the American Anthropological Association, Chicago, IL, November 22-24.

2013. University of Zurich, Switzerland: Shia concepts of motherhood in the context of egg donation and surrogacy in Iran: towards an ontology of kinship, (co-convener and co-organizer) International Conference “Contesting Fertilities, Families, and Sexualities: Social and Historical Perspectives on Assisted Reproductive Technologies”, University of Zurich, September 5-6.



My website at