Vulnerability and the Consenting Subject: Reimagining Informed Consent in Embryo Donation

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Informed consent is medico-legal orthodoxy and the principal means by which research encounters with the body are regulated in the UK. However, biomedical advancements increasingly frustrate the degree to which informed consent can be practiced, whilst introducing ambiguity into its legal significance. What is more, feminist theory fundamentally disrupts the ideologically liberal foundations of informed consent, exposing it as a potentially inadequate mode of bioethical regulation. This paper explores these critiques by reference to a case study—embryo donation to health research, following fertility treatment, as regulated by the HFEA 1990—and contends that informed consent cannot adequately respond to the material realities of this research encounter. Thereafter, by drawing on feminist theories of vulnerability, this paper proffers an alternative bioethical approach, which calls for structural reform in recognition of the fundamentally bilateral constitution of self and society and a renewed appreciation for the affective/dispositional tenor of lived experience.




Hewer, R. (2019). Vulnerability and the Consenting Subject: Reimagining Informed Consent in Embryo Donation. Feminist Legal Studies, 27(3), 287–310.

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