Acknowledging the plural Weberian rationalities in clinical embryology
When moral values, habits, and/or affection prevail beyond efficiency
Keywords:Weberian rationalities, clinical embryology, embryo assessment, decision-making processes, professional jurisdiction
This paper addresses the plural forms of reasoning used by clinical embryologists when deciding the fate of the human embryos they create and manipulate in the laboratory setting through assisted reproductive technologies (ART). Our analysis draws on empirical material from in-depth interviews with 20 clinical embryologists working at public and private fertility units/clinics in Portugal. Within a bureaucratic organisation based on a high level of professional specialisation, embryologists display multiple perspectives on the criteria they use to evaluate and classify the embryo’s quality, potential and viability. Taxonomies, international guidelines and statistical data are largely used by embryologists to qualify the embryos, basing their action on an instrumental rationality (efficient means and calculated ends recognized inductively). However, beyond technical-scientific facts and theories as intellectual tools for action, some of them also mobilize alternative ethical rationalities. Namely, value-rational action based on moral valuations and legitimate rules/ends, affectual rationality governed by emotions, affects and feeling states (such as empathy with the beneficiaries), and traditional rationality based on habits and routines (embryologist’s feeling gained by experience) intervene too. Therefore, Weber’s distinctive ideal-types and theoretical contributions, namely his foundational four types of social action are relevant for rethinking professional practices within ART, especially clinical embryology.
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