In her study on organ transplantation, medical anthropologist Linda Hogle refers to the constant context-dependent ambiguity of human biological material as ‘entities that are simultaneously precious human remains, technological artefacts, waste products, and therapeutic tools’. According to the definitions listed by the editors in the introduction, such bodily detachable human entities and fluids can be conceptualized as biologics. This essay is about a particular kind of human material: gametes (or germ cells), reproductive substances which are needed for procreation and that are differentiated into sperm and oocytes. Gametes can be termed biologics because they mostly originate from living organisms; in addition, in some cases post-mortem sperm retrieval is performed. Reproductive treatment relies on gametes as a natural resource that cannot be synthesized. Like other biologics, the regulation of gamete donation, their storage and the standardization of these processes pose several legal problems. Therefore the aim of this essay is to show why gametes are a particular kind of biologics, given that they cannot be standardized like other biologics and that their very use calls into question their ontological status. Furthermore, the ways in which they are made available from the body are quite differentiated and rooted in gender dichotomies, depending on whether sperm or oocytes are involved.
In contrast to other types of biologics like vaccines or vitamins that are designed for preventive or therapeutic use, gametes are used for reproductive treatment (as a means of substitution).