Unpacking the Israeli Affinity for ART

This week’s readings discuss in large part how Jewish law, culture, and kinship relations impact the use of assisted reproductive technology in a Jewish society. Sue Kahn, a social anthropologist who specifically focuses on women, explores Israel as her case study, conducting ethnography on various Israeli women to enrich her understand of the relationship between Israelis and reproductive technology. In the introduction to her book, she provides context to the subject, introducing numerous themes, two of which I’d like to focus on at the onset of this blog post. Firstly, she writes about Israeli pronatalism, saying that “the overwhelming desire to create Jewish babies deeply informs the Israeli embrace of reproductive technology” (Kahn 2000, 3). This desire stems from numerous causes including political population concerns as well as the religious sense that reproduction fulfills a God given commandment. This notion of a religious obligation to reproduce is a central theme throughout Kahn as well as the other readings, as this approach is at odds with the Catholic view of a child as a gift that stems from viewing the text as narrative rather than a binding rule book. We will discuss this contrast in further detail shortly. 

Kahn introduces another central theme in her introduction: the emphasis on the mother as bearing the main, central role in the reproductive process. Kahn notes that “Israeli Jewish women are left as the primary agents through which the nation can be reproduced as Jewish,” relating directly to the desire to create Jewish babies but also emphasizing that woman are the means to this continuity, as the mother is the medium through which babies are reared (Kahn 2000, 4). One example of the Israeli focus on motherhood is found in Kahn’s discussion of the Nahmani case, which we already began to discuss in class. A married couple elected to begin the preliminary stages of infertility treatment in hopes of successfully yielding embryos. Before they went through with implanting the embryos in the woman, the couple got divorced. The woman wanted to bear children with these embryos, and despite the man’s resistance, the court ruled in her favor, bolstering the woman’s right to a child. Kahn writes that the reason for and implied message of this decision is that “motherhood is the deepest desire of women and should be pursued at all costs” (Kahn 2000, 70). The court allowing the mother to implant these embryos again ties back to the theme of the centrality of women in the reproductive process. These embryos equally belong to the man, who, despite wanting not to father these children, is clearly less of a priority in the eyes of the court than the mother. “I chose life,” said Judge Ya’akov Turkel, not only recognizing the mother’s right to a child but also encouraging more reproduction of Jewish babies (Kahn 2000, 68). The Nahmani case is an important example of how both of Kahn’s main points are deeply related. The Jewish concern with creating Jewish babies and the proper treatment of the mother given that she bears the child are two of the major factors that lend to Israel favoring the use of reproductive technology. 

Where does this emphasis on the mother stem from? Judaism is inherited matrilineally, so Jewish heritage is passed down through the mother. Kahn logically points out that “the creation of a Jewish child can only be accomplished via gestation in, and parturition from, a Jewish womb.” (Kahn 2000, 167) Back during biblical and rabbinic times, there was no genetic testing or any way to prove kinship other than viscerally, by witnessing the baby emerge from the mother. Seeing as the baby comes directly from the mother, that is the most foolproof way of confirming heredity. Thus, “the specific identity and origin of sperm is conceptualized as irrelevant to Jewish reproduction” (Kahn 2000, 166). Jewish conceptions of kinship and reproduction does not care necessarily about the identity of the sperm, as the mother passes on her Jewishness to the child. Obviously, some recognition of the father is granted, as boys are referred to by name as the son of their fathers. For example, in Hebrew, I am referred to as “Noah ben Hayim,” Noah,  the son of Hayim, my father’s Hebrew name. Another example of a Jewish tradition passed patrilineally is the Cohanic legacy. Yet, the religious status of being Jewish itself is granted through the mother. This total concern for the mother and lack of concern about the identity of the father allows for a cultural the permits and even favors the use of reproductive technology, including sperm donation and IVF, as a means of reproduction, the ultimate Jewish goal. Yet again, we continue to see the theme of centrality of the mother in the extremely significant process of creating Jewish babies. This notion of the lack of a need to identify the origin of the sperm invites us to consider the Jewish view of kinship. We see not only the emphasis on the mother rather than the father in reproduction, but we can also infer a sense of flexibility when it comes to demarcating kin. A mother is a mother so long as she rears the child (according to the Rabbis, this is how Jewish heredity is granted), and while a father is a father if he provides the seed, a baby born to a Jewish mother with sperm donated by a non-Jewish man is considered fatherless according to Jewish law. This very flexible view of kinship allows for reproductive technology to gain traction in Israeli society and ultimately work toward creating as many Jewish babies while working within the confines of Jewish law. 

Given this discuss of kinship, I would be remiss not to mention another underlying theme of Kahn’s book. Given the widespread accessibility of assisted reproductive technology in Israel, how does this affect kinship relations in Israel? She poses the question “what will marriage come to mean if it has ceased to be the exclusive locus of legitimate reproduction” (Kahn 2000, 86). While this question is written as a rhetorical one, the resulting views of kinship is certainly a significant ramification of allowing the use of reproductive technology. While it is obvious that the use of reproductive technology invites a change in kinship relations, Kahn writes “the choice of unmarried women to get pregnant via artificial insemination does not threaten to destabilize foundational assumptions about kinship among Jewish Israelis, for these foundational assumptions are grounded in rabbinic notions of kinship that do not delegitimate children born to unmarried women” (Kahn 2000, 62-63). Kahn clearly expresses that the Israeli use of ART does not contradict and is actually in line with the fundamental Jewish understanding of kinship.

I’d now like to return to the question of the Jewish perception and use of ART as opposed to the Catholic one that we discussed last week in our reading of Donum Vitae. The emphasis on motherhood and desire to create Jewish babies is one reason why we see a more willing approach to IVF from Jewish political and religious leaders as opposed to Catholics. Another stems from the notion that “reproduction… [is] not imagined simply as a biological process that creates human beings, it is imagined as a cultural process constitutive of humanity” (Kahn 2000, 168). The Rabbis, who, again, had no concept of science, did not view child rearing as empirically as the Catholics. According to Kahn, rather, it is a more holistic process of raising a human, only a part of which is biological. ART is more permissible to Jews than Catholics because, as opposed to the hardline commitment to the institution of marriage found in Donum Vitae, the Jewish desire to reproduce grants a more flexible conception of kinship than that of the Catholics. 

One crucial, fundamental difference between the Jewish view of ART and the Catholic view is their approach to Bible and following the laws. Professor Seeman, in his article about reproductive technology in Israel, writes “unlike Jewish writers, Catholic and Protestant writers who use the Bible tend to focus on what can be derived from narrative rather than legal portions of the biblical text” (Seeman 2010, 348). Here, we see a conflict. The Jews read the text as binding; they must follow the letter of the law. Thus, when it comes to reproductive technology, if there is no law against it, then it is within their system of morals to embrace reproductive technology given that it supports the survivability of the Jewish people by increasing rates of reproduction. Catholics, on the other hand, have a different approach to text. They read the Bible as narrative, and thus prioritize values such as the sacredness of marriage over being flexible when it comes to ART because it does not contradict the letter of the law. As Dr. Seeman writes, “it is precisely the legalistic emphasis on discrete prohibitions that has given Jewish bioethical deliberation so much more flexibility than that derived from narrative based ‘foundational anthropology’ approaches,” highlighting both the tension between Catholic and Jewish readings of the Bible and also the focus on the text as law of the Jewish reading that allows for flexibility when it comes to reproductive technology (Seeman 2010, 349). Given a better understanding of the Jewish approach to scripture, we return to Kahn to add an additional layer of understanding to the Jewish approach to ART, as she says that “reproduction is not conceptualized as a choice in Jewish law, but as an obligation, the infertile couple’s decision to take advantage of the new reproductive technologies does not evolved out of a consumerist impulse but out of a compulsion to fulfill a divine commandment” (Kahn 2000, 170). Last week, we discussed the line from Genesis 1:28 “be fruitful and multiply,” noting that the Jews read this as a commandment while the Catholics read this as more of a general lesson rather than a requirement. The Catholic view of the child as a gift is starkly in contrast with the above quote from. Kahn, who describes reproduction as a religious obligation to the Jews. While a child certainly is a gift for them as well, having a child is also not an option. Jewish parents must do whatever it takes to reproduce, even if it compromises traditional conceptions of marriage or strict boundaries of kinship. 

Before I conclude, I will quickly mention Dr. Broyd, who writes an article about the Jewish view of cloning. When discussing the question of who would be considered the mother of a clone, he writes that “the Jewish legal tradition would, in my opinion, be inclined to label the gestational mother (the one who served as an incubator for this cloned individual) as the legal mother of the child, as this woman has most of the apparent indicia of motherhood according to Jewish law” (Broyd 2005, 298). Even given a technology as exciting and controversial as cloning, Dr. Broyd notes that Jewish law gives motherhood status, and thus heredity of the faith, to the woman who bears and delivers the child. This matrilineality directly relates to our analysis of Kahn in our discussion of the focus on women in Israel in considering reproduction. 

Kahn develops a strong, holistic argument for how and why reproductive technology is so accessible in Israel. She describes the political and religious conditions and the Jewish conceptions of kinship and reproduction such that Israel embraces these technologies as opposed to some other traditional and religious cultures. I can only appreciate the work that Kahn has produced. While there is certainly a spectrum of varying Jewish opinions on this matter, I believe that Kahn captures very well the essence of the mainstream Jewish views of today.

Reproducing Jews: ART in Israel

In her book Reproducing Jews, anthropologist Susan Kahn submits three main ideas for the reader’s consideration. The first is that in Israeli culture, “…it is considered much worse to be a childless woman than it is to be an unmarried mother” (16). This view of motherhood being accepted as the highest goal to which a woman can attain is something explained and developed in Kahn’s book in tandem with assisted reproductive technology making this goal more and more achievable. The second theme is that of the continuation of the Jewish people; Kahn writes, “Because reproductive technology offers the potential to reproduce more Jews, it is understood to be a positive tool for Jewish survival” (93). There is a deep pull within the collective Jewish consciousness to follow the mandate set forth in Genesis to be fruitful and multiply. The third theme Kahn sets up for the reader is that of the evolving ideas of kinship in Israeli and Jewish culture as a result of assisted reproductive technology becoming more and more widespread. Kahn asks the reader to consider new ideas about paternalistic roles, family units, and individual rights in terms of emerging systems of reproduction, showing how new methods of reproducing Jews have the ability to impact our understanding of reproduction on a global scale.

The first of these three themes that Kahn goes into is shown clearly in the title of the first chapter: “The time arrived but the father didn’t” (9). This effectively captures the feeling of much of Israeli and Jewish culture that Kahn details in the first chapter and throughout the book: women are supposed to be mothers, and they must be allowed to fulfill this role through any means available to them. The new wave of assisted reproductive technology being made available to Jewish women in Israel is a direct result of this deeply-rooted cultural view that women are best suited for motherhood and it is their natural right and directive to have children. In this way, the method of the conception means relatively little in comparison to the actual fact of conception. Kah writes of this phenomenon, “Motherhood itself remains understood as a deeply natural desire and goal, despite the extraordinary technological measures necessary to achieve it” (62). Assisted reproductive technology allows women who are unmarried, barren, homosexual, or in a relationship with an infertile man to have children and fulfill their natural role in motherhood; for this reason, Kahn suggests, the barriers that may be in place elsewhere between women and assisted reproductive technology are not as much of a hurdle for Jewish women in Israel.

The legal hurdles that many women face in using assisted reproductive technology were not uncommon for women in Israel until, Kahn posits, the internationally publicized Nahmani case in which Ruti Nahmani went head to head with her ex-husband to gain custody of the frozen embryos that had been fertilized while they were still married. The details of the case are not as important to Kahn as the public opinion that the case generated in regards to the image of assisted reproductive technology and the attitude towards childless women. Kahn writes, “The public’s sympathy for [Ruti Nahmani] reinforced not only the rights of barren women but also the popular ideology that motherhood is the most important goal in a woman’s life, regardless of her marital status” (69). This case, a landmark case for assisted reproductive technology in itself, achieved something equally important in how it drew attention to the “pitiable state that must be ‘cured’ by any means necessary” that childlessness is seen as in Israeli culture (69). No longer is motherhood reserved for married women with complete health; assisted reproductive technology allows women in any state to have children and fulfill their natural role.

The second theme of Reproducing Jews is the deeply embedded cultural directive of the continuation of the Jewish people. Kahn argues that this desire to fulfill the creation mandate of Genesis 1:28 influences not only religious Jews but their secular counterparts as well. Israeli law is bound up with Jewish religious law and customs, both implicitly and explicitly. Israeli legislation on assisted reproductive technology cannot be created or upheld without some form of input or reaction from Jewish religious law and the rabbis that maintain it. Israeli laws that determine the use of assisted reproductive technology are bolstered by the fact that Jewish people – whether secular or religious – are deeply invested in making more Jewish people.

The state, concretely pronatal, is in agreement with this drive to continue reproducing Jews. Kahn writes of this phenomenon, “…the children conceived via artificial insemination and born to unmarried women inherit the same cultural, religious, and social identity as those born to married women… [artificial insemination] is not a choice that runs contrary to one of the most central goals of the state: the reproduction of Jews” (62). In rabbinic law, children born to unmarried Jewish women enjoy the same rights, status, and privileges of those born to married Jewish women. This further supports the idea that the actual reproduction of children is more important than the way the reproduction occurred. Kahn writes that “since reproduction is not conceptualized as a choice in Jewish law, but as an obligation, the infertile couple’s decision to take advantage of the new reproductive technologies [comes from] compulsion to fulfill a divine commandment” (170). Rabbinic law continues to evolve in reaction to emerging reproductive technologies so that it may, in its own specific and ordered way, facilitate the Halakhic use of these technologies in order to reproduce more Jews.

Jewish religious culture has also influenced public perception of childless women in much the same way as the Nahmani case, allowing it to be more widespread. Kahn writes, “Consent for the new reproductive technologies is all but universal in Israel, a pronatalist state where the despair of the barren woman has deep cultural roots” (70). She goes on to mention how this may even be an appeal to the biblical story of Rachel, a barren woman who cried out to God to give her a son (70). The influence of Jewish religious culture and law on that of secular Israel cannot be disregarded, as it informs the ways in which laws of assisted reproductive technology come about and are integrated into society. Rabbinic law is also informed by this desire to further the Jewish people; Kahn writes that “It is important to point out that a powerful motive behind the creation of new rabbinic rulings regarding reproductive technology is rabbinic concern for the survival of the Jewish people” (93). Assisted reproductive technology allows for more Jewish women to have more Jewish babies, and this is a matter of great importance to the Jewish religious community.

Nevertheless, there does exist a significant amount of discussion and concern over evolving kinship roles as assisted reproductive technology develops in Israel. This is the third point that carries throughout Kahn’s book and one that is the most fraught with disagreement between secular Israeli law and orthodox Jewish culture. There are obvious points of heated debate that emerge in discussions of assisted reproductive technology, be it IVF, artificial insemination, or surrogacy; the most basic of these are those that deal with questions of who the “real” mother or father is, and what roles biological “parents” play in a system where they may have nothing to do with the child who shared their genetic makeup.

Kahn writes strikingly of evolving paternal roles surrounding artificial insemination: “[the state] assumes a paternalistic role, both literally and figuratively. The role of ‘inseminator’ moves laterally between the imagined father and the state… the maintenance and welfare of the child is dependent on the entity that produces sperm for conception, whether that entity is the father or whether it is the state” (29). In this view, the role of “father” goes to the state, both in terms of physical mechanics and the role of provider. This introduces an interesting understanding of the ways in which parental roles can be transferred to entities far removed from the individual, personal father. As Kahn writes, “…Jewish paternity exists along a continuum” (101).

In the same way, the role of motherhood can be similarly understood to be grafted onto the state in situations of surrogacy or egg donation. Kahn writes that “By forcing the biological roles of maternality to fragment into genetic and gestational components, ovum-related technologies force a conceptual fragmentation of maternality as well” (112). These questions of who the “real” mother is are especially important with regards to a system that “determines religious identity matrilineally” (128). Jewish law depends on the identity of the mother to determine Jewish identity, and if the understanding of motherhood is fractured into various aspects, the fracturing of a straightforward understanding of Jewish religious identity is equally present.

Kahn suggests that, in these evolving kinship units forming as a result of assisted reproductive technology, the role of parent and “family” can be transferred not only to the state, but to the staff of the laboratories in which assisted reproductive technology takes place. She writes, “One could argue that the matrix of relationships that exists in these fertility laboratories can be imagined as a fictive kin network, for it is within these relationships that conception occurs” (116). This view sheds light on an incredibly intimate relationship of social and kinship bonds that surround the events, locations, and personnel involved in assisted reproductive technology. The whole network can, in this way, be imagined as a sort of family unit in which conception is achieved, children are born, and families are created. This humanization of assisted reproductive technology is a vastly interesting phenomenon; Kahn calls it the “technological creation of motherhood” (127). This can be applied to fatherhood as well, and it gives readers an insight into the blending worlds of “the medical realm of the operating room and the symbolic realm of kinship” (127) that are emerging from the culture surrounding assisted reproductive technology in Israel.

Natural Law & Reproductive Ethics Blog Post

This week’s readings concern the reactions of the Catholic Church and the French Government to modern reproductive technologies, such as IVF.  Interestingly, both institutions are not only critical of reproductive technologies but also presuppose an a priori natural law.  While the Catholic Church’s and the French Government’s reasoning is somewhat different, the fact that they both presuppose natural laws and are critical of modern reproductive technologies reflects that advancements in technology—especially in reproductive technologies—brings up anxieties about nature and natural law.

The central anxiety reproductive technologies evoke from the Catholic Church, as shown in Donum Vitae, is that the technologies may go against human nature.  The Church believes that “each human person…is constituted not only by his spirit but by his body as well” (Donum Vitae, 144).  Since the body and soul are inseparable from the human being, the Church reasons that any physical intervention (such as a medical procedure) will always affect the soul.  As such, the Church instructs that any medical intervention “must be given a moral evaluation in reference to the dignity of the human person, who is called to realized his vocation from God to the gift of love and the gift of life” (Donum Vitae, 145).  Because of this logic, the core principle of the Church is that medical technology must respect the dignity of the human being.

Regarding reproductive technologies, the authors of Donum Vitae outline three basic principles that are relevant to determining the morality of reproductive technologies.  The first principle is that embryos and fetuses are to be respected as human beings.  This principle reflects Church doctrine that life begins at conception.  The second principle is that human life cannot be purposely destroyed or viewed as an end.  This principle reflects a Kantian attitude towards humanity and is rooted in the teaching that human life is extraordinary due to its creation by God, in God’s image.  The third principle is that procreation ought to happen only through marriage.  This principle is derived from Church doctrine that a child has the right to be born into a marriage.  The logic the authors use to defend this principle is that married parents bring stability and growth for the child.  Using these three principles, the authors evaluate some issues stemming from modern advances in reproductive technologies

The authors spend a considerable amount of space evaluating the morality of in-vitro-fertilization (IVF).  In particular, they question the morality of heterologous IVF and homologous IVF.  The authors determine that heterologous IVF, defined as fertilization outside of marriage, goes against Church doctrine because it “violates the rights of the child; it deprives him of his filial relationship with his parental origins and can hinder the maturing of his personal identity” (Donum Vitae, 159).  In other words, heterologous IVF is prohibited because it denies the child married parents.  Unlike their judgment on heterologous IVF, the authors seem to have difficulties judging homologous IVF, defined as fertilization within marriage.  Ultimately, they rule against it because “such fertilization is neither in fact achieved nor positively willed as the expression and fruit of a specific act of the conjugal union…the generation of the human person is objectively deprived of its proper perfection: namely, that of being the result and fruit of a conjugal act” (Donum Vitae, 165).  In other words, homologous IVF is prohibited because the child was not conceived through “conjugal” relations.

From my perspective, the authors of Donum Vitae fail to provide adequate reasons for why IVF (any form) is prohibited.  I can understand the logic of how they reached their decision, but I do not view their reasons as sufficient to declare IVF prohibited.  The prohibition and reasons appear to be a reaction against change.  While it remains debatable if the authors of Donum Vitae prohibit IVF due to a fear that it will change normalcy, it is undebatable that the actions of the 1994 French National Assembly were made out of fear that IVF will disrupt the status quo.

Nan Ball, in the 2000 article “The Reemergence of Enlightenment Ideas in the 1994 French Bioethics Debates,” does an excellent job at investigating the conditions present in France’s decision to limit IVF treatment exclusively to heterosexual couples of childbearing age.  Ball argues that France’s decision reflected Enlightenment thought on nature and was made in order to maintain what was then viewed as normal.  According to Ball, the French legislature viewed “artificial insemination of homosexual or post-menopausal woman…as ‘unnatural’ because equivalent modes of procreation were not to be found in nature” (Ball, 571).  Ball explains that the “polemical groundwork” for France’s decision comes from the Enlightenment.

Ball explains that Enlightenment thinkers revitalized the importance of the family, which were later adapted to the French bioethics debate.  According to Ball, the Enlightenment caused the family to transform into “a moral and spiritual function, it formed bodies and souls” (Ball, 560).  Jean-Jacques Rousseau took the idea of the family a step further by linking “the importance of the family to the well-being of society” (Ball, 561).  Rousseau, in other words, believed that the family was connected to society and a happy family would result in a happy society.  Unsurprisingly, two-hundred years later, one of the primary reasons why the French legislators restricted IVF is that they “wanted to slow down the possible social changes signaled by unrestricted use of biomedical technology” (Ball 571).  In other words, the French legislators restricted IVF because they believed that by allowing people deemed unnatural to have children—such as homosexuals or post-menopausal women—society would collapse.

Nan’s article does a great job of showing the motives of the French legislators and explaining that it was out of fear.  I am stunned that a “western” European country had such a rigid view of normality not too long ago.  The 1994 French bioethics debate, as well as the Donum Vitae, illuminate the motives behind why certain medical practices, which are inherently benevolent, are banned.  I find it interesting and perplexing that neither case discussed the reasons why procedures like IVF were invented.  I am not surprised, however, that a reason against reproductive technologies found in both cases is an unwillingness to accept that norms may change.

Works Cited:

Ball, Nan. “The Reemergence of Enlightenment Ideas in the 1994 French Bioethics Debates.” Duke Law Journal, vol. 50, no. 2, Nov. 2000, pp. 545-587.

Donum Vitae.” In Religion and Artificial Reproduction: An Inquiry into the Vatican’s “Instruction on Respect for Human Live in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation,” edited by Thomas A. Shannon and Lisa Sowle Cahill, Crossroad, 1988, pp. 140-174.

Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics

In the world of medical ethics, there are several topics so controversial that they dominate the literature.  Artificial reproductive technology is one of these topics. I looked at two historical pieces, as well as one version of Genesis, to examine some of the arguments surrounding artificial reproductive technology.

The first piece, Donum Vitae, discusses the Roman Catholic Church’s position on in vitro fertilization as of 1987.  The arguments put forth in Donum Vitae were all extrapolated from a clearly defined set of moral principles.  The first principle, “The human being must be respected-as a person-from the very first instant of his existence,” argues that all embryos are human and must therefore be treated as sacred (Crossroad 1988).  This principle is interpreted to mean that no person, be that a medical professional, a parent, or another individual, may kill, harm, or endanger an embryo.  This principle comes from an interpretation of religious literature by a religious authority from which they then try to justify with a biological basis. However, this is a flawed justification.  They argue that when a single new cell with a unique genetic code is produced, a new human is born. There are several flaws in that train of thought. One example is single human cells (such as a single skin cell) may have a unique genetic code due to a mutation (such as the case with cancer) yet does not have a human identity.  Therefore, the contrapositive argument—single cells with a unique DNA identity must have a unique human identity—cannot be true.

The second principle is a functional corollary of the first principle; medical technology may only be used in a therapeutic sense.  This follows logically as this principle prohibits any sort of medicine or medical imaging that puts any person (or fetus) at risk without a sincere intention to help cure that individual.  The third principle is that every child has a right to “be conceived and to be born within marriage and from marriage” (Crossroad 1988). Marriage, according to the Roman Catholic Church, must be between a man and a women.  Overall, when looking at the Roman Catholic Church’s stance on medical issues, it is important to consider these three principles as these are fundamental beliefs derived from religion. Just as the Roman Catholic Church makes its decisions based on a set of criteria, so did the French government circa 1994.

In 1994, the French National Assembly passed laws regulating artificial reproductive technology based on recommendations from the French National Bioethics Committee.  The policies that were chosen seemed to echo enlightenment ideas. These policies were mostly based off of two principles: preservation of family and preservation of nature.  To clarify, the ideas of both family and nature differ greatly between cultures, and even within a culture, so these were the definitions held by the French National Bioethics Committee at that time.  The Bioethics Committee looked at how Rousseau drew importance to the family and decided that the “bi-parental heterosexual family unit” was the proper familial unit (Ball 2000). This principle also implies that other family styles (such as single parents and homosexual parents) were a detriment.  I attribute this blatant homophobic principle to the Committee’s (irrational) fear that these non-traditional family units will change or destroy the current French values system.

The second principle the French National Bioethics Committee used is the idea that policy should preserve nature.  This principle is based on the erroneous logic that nature is always good. The Committee seemed to arbitrarily decide what is considered natural and justified policy based on that.

When we examine policy regarding reproductive technology, it is vital to examine these policies through the viewpoint of the policy makers (the Church or the Assembly).  One must examine policy with the understanding that each groups assumes their principles are sound. Once those assumptions are made, we can somewhat account for cultural relativism.  It is logical that the Roman Catholic Church disagrees with IVF. If it is heterologous IVF, it violates the child’s right to have a mother and father. If homologous IVF for married individuals, the destruction of “spare” embryos as part of IVF violates each embryo’s right to live and thus is equivalent to murder.  The French restrict IVF to heterosexual couples who either have lived together for over two years or are married to prevent the violation of their established principles. Homosexual couples and single individuals were not permitted to use IVF as it violates their idea of a family. Postmenopausal woman were also not permitted to use IVF as it violates their idea of nature.

I also looked at the first two chapters of the Chabad version of Genesis with Rashi’s (a Jewish authority’s) commentary.  The line that discusses procreation talks about the fetus as “one flesh” which Rashi took to interpret as coming from both the father and mother (Genesis 2:24).  I see how it is possible to interpret this passage as every child must have a mother and father, but my personal interpretation is strictly biological; each child comes from a man and a woman but nothing more.  Therefore based on this passage, I personally would not believe any principles exist that would ban IVF.

Overall when looking at how different groups treat IVF, looking at the specifics of each policy will only bring you back to look at the principles, or justifications, each group gives for their actions.  Studying those assumptions allows us to be able to understand these cultures better than policy alone.


Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics

The readings this week took what we have learned so far and expanded upon it while also bringing in a Christian and Catholic perspective.

The first reading was on the book of Genesis, chapters one and two. This reading was much different than what we have considered before in this class. Instead of an anthropological text, the book of Genesis is a religious text which forms the basis of the Christian religion. The first chapter, also known as the creation story, focused on how God created the world as we know it, with the sky, ground and waters as well as day and night. Furthermore, God created humankind in His image to rule over all the other creatures on the Earth. What I found to be particularly interesting in relation to this class was section 1:27-1:28: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon this earth.’ “ I believe these lines have two distinct points. First, it gives humans the belief that they have authority over all and are created perfectly “in his image.” I’d like to emphasize that both male and female were created this way and so here there is no authority given to man over woman. Second, these lines give humans a purpose – to procreate and fill the earth.

The second chapter slightly contradicts the equality of male and female. In this chapter, the woman is created out of man to be his helper (Genesis 2:18-2:24). These lines suggest a lower status for woman to serve at man’s need. Furthermore, these lines recognize the purpose of a wife. Once a man has passed a time of needing his parents, he moves to a wife to be “one” with. Where do these roles come into play when considering reproductive technologies?

Donum Vitae is an explanation of the Catholic Church’s view on reproductive technologies. The Catholic Church’s stance is important to both Christians and non-Christians because many “recognize the church as ‘an expert in humanity’ with a mission to serve the ‘civilization of love’ and of life” (Donum Vitae 142). Thus, the impact of these teachings can be viewed as more universal.

Donum Vitae references the same lines of Genesis that I referenced above, 1:27-1:28. The purpose is different than I described previously; it is about how science and research are taking the role of human domination to a new level (Donum Vitae 143). The power to create life out of seemingly nothing can be viewed as an attempt for human’s to obtain too much power. Nonetheless, the church’s stance on these issues are not strictly against them. The church supports any medical intervention that respects the life and dignity of human life, specifically the embryo’s. It is mainly against intervention that is not explicitly therapeutic and “aimed at the improvement of the biological condition” (Donum Vitae 145). While this text addresses many different, specific reproductive technologies and their moral complications, I am going to focus on a couple that I felt summed up the church’s thought as a whole.

Abortion is a reproductive technology that questions when human existence begins. When considering abortion, the church claims, “Life once conceived, must be protected with the utmost care; abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes” (Donum Vitae 148). The church believes life to start at conception because that is when the human’s spiritual soul is created. Once this soul is created, a human being exists and the life must be protected. This same argument is the backbone for the church’s view against research on embryos that are not strictly therapeutic and working to preserve the child. Additionally, “The corpses of human embryos and fetuses, whether they have been deliberately aborted or not, must be respected just as the remains of other human beings” (Donum Vitae 152). Again, this all relates back to the belief that a human soul is created at conception and lives within the embryo. These same rights apply no matter how the embryo was created, whether through sexual intercourse or in vitro fertilization.

In regards to reproductive technologies, the church is against any technology that involves anyone outside the husband and wife. These technologies are “contrary to the unity of marriage, to the dignity of the spouses, to the vocation proper to parents, and to the child’s right to be conceived and brought into the world in marriage and from marriage” (Donum Vitae 159). The case of technologies used solely between a husband and a wife are more complicated and relies on a careful analysis of certain principles related to the marriage of the husband and wife. Overall, I believe the following quote sums up this decision making process: “Homologous artificial insemination within marriage cannot be admitted except for those cases in which the technical means is not a substitute for the conjugal act but serves to facilitate and to help so that the act attains its natural purpose” (Donum Vitae 166).

The last section of Donum Vitae addresses the role of civil authorities. The church views civil law as a way to prevent immoral behavior from being legitimized. If the law does not support a behavior, people will be less likely to practice the behavior and attempt to justify it as morally acceptable. Thus, “The task of the civil law is to ensure the common good of people through the recognition of and the defense of fundamental rights and through the promotion of peace and of public morality” (Donum Vitae 170). I find this view quite controversial because it relies on civil authorities to know what is morally correct. I would argue that leaving certain practices legal would allow each individual to decide what is morally correct and make the decision since most of these issues are not as black-and-white as the church seems to believe.

The article written by Nan T. Ball demonstrates the power that civil law has when it comes to reproductive technologies. While this is not written from the religious perspective, it integrates itself with Donum Vitae in that it emphasizes civil authority taking on the debate of ARTs to prevent its abuse. Ball describes how the French used civil law to limit ARTs to only traditional families in order to keep order in French society. He describes the history of the French, emphasizing the natural family as heterosexual parents and children. Furthermore, Ball dives into Rousseau as an explanation for the traditional French family unit serving as a sign of stability. For example, “Rousseau hoped to signal political change through familial discourse” (Ball 564). This idea stemmed from the view that each family was like a miniature society. These miniature societies together made up a larger society, the nation. Thus changing each miniature society could change the nation. Therefore, any threat to the traditional family could threaten the stability of the nation. This also answered the question of why so many people cared about ART when it only affected a small population of the nation (Ball 559).

As a result of the politician’s fear of destroying the traditional family, ART was legalized under certain strict constraints: “The man and woman forming the couple must be alive, of procreative age, married or able to prove that they have lived together for at least two years and have consented to the transfer of embryos or insemination” (Ball 571). These constraints eliminated the fear of homosexual couples and couples above procreative age having genetically-related children and hence kept the traditional family unit alive.

The last section of Ball’s article addresses the concept of nature. The French argued that ART is an unnatural form of procreation because it is a form of human manipulation (Ball 571). Therefore, they were able to restrict access to ART on a moral level. Since homosexual couples and older couples could not conceive naturally, they should not be able to use ART to conceive. This relates back to Donum Vitae in that it is keeping reproduction between a husband and a wife, within the family unit.

The Body and Creation of a National Identity

While invoking the conception of a country, Delany argues the religious expression of the male and female role in reproduction. She argues, “Villagers used to cite the Qur’an in order to legitimate their view. In Sura 2:223 it is stated, [“Women are given to you as fields; Go therein and sow (your seed) as you wish,”)(183). Since the country is predominantly Muslim, it stands to reason that this perception of the female role in reproduction would be widely comprehensible to the general population of Turks. This is corroborated by Delany’s assertion that villagers would use this quote as evidence, which suggests that this belief was common among the general population. Delaney asserts the importance of the beliefs of common people to the formation of a Turkish identity, stating, “[They] encouraged the modernizing, nationalistically inclined intellectuals to turn to the “common people” and to folklore for inspiration. It was in folklore-tales, proverbs, and especially folk poetry, often communicated by traveling minstrels-that the sentiments and values of the Turkish people could be found,”(Delaney 181).   Thus by examining the beliefs and culture of the common people, one could attain a knowledge of the Turkish people as a whole. The cultural practices of the common people would be used as a unifying agent as these beliefs would form the bedrock of a national Turkish identity. Thus, when villagers discuss a Koranic belief system of the female role in reproduction, it is likely a good metric for the Turkish belief. Within this religious context, females play a passive role in the creation of new life. Women simply provide the nutrients necessary for it to flourish, which downplays their agency in reproduction, while creating a literal connection between femininity and land. When invoking the imagery of birth when considering the creation of a new nation, the land obtains feminine characteristics.

The role of ones duty to a body can be examined within the context of Hamdy’s discussion of Ali’s struggle with organ transplantation. Ali argued that, “God alone owns everything, including human bodies and their parts. Who are we, then, to give something away that we do not own?”(148, Hamdy). Here both the body and land are things belonging to God. It is immoral to give something away that belongs to God, so the relinquishment of both land and body cannot be justified through this world view. Furthermore, one has an obligation to uphold God’s property. Ali’s doctor argues, “God had given people their bodies as a trust (amana) and that he was therefore responsible to take care of it,”(151, Hamdy). The body never truly belongs to the host, as it is simply on loan from God. Therefore a person is morally obligated, under this school of thought, to maintain the body to the best of their ability because it is God’s property rather than their own. Extending this logic to the Turks, they would have a similar obligation to act in a way which best maintains the female body which functions as the metaphorical mother of Turkey.

Mustafa Kemal appeals to the feminine imagery following the dismantling of the Ottoman Empire. According to Delaney, “[Kemal] made a whirlwind tour of the country and rallied the people to resist the partition and claim the country as their own. The appeal was made to their sense of honor; they must come to the defense of the Motherland that, he claimed, had been prostituted under the capitulations and was about to be mutilated by the partition,”(186). With the land functioning as a female body, the breaking up of the empire is akin to the mutilation of that body. It is therefore their duty to protect their motherland from European control as it would their duty to defend their mother or spouse from the sexual advances of an unwanted man. Therefore this parallel between femininity and land, originating from Muslim doctrine, functions as a powerful rallying tool for males interested in defending their land and creating a new country of their own. The male role in the conception of a new county within this framework is one of agency. Delaney asserts, “The paternal role has been conceptualized as the generative, creative role; the father is the one who bestows life as well as essential identity via the soul; thus he is the means for the divine entering into human society,”(184). Within this particular perception of reproduction, the father is responsible for the creation of a new being. Thus the creation of a new country within this framework is inherently male. Just as the land plays the role of the maternal, the essential identity of the fetus, or national identity of the country, takes on a paternal one.


Reproduction and Cosmology

Reproduction and Cosmology

When thinking about reproduction and the laws and technology that surround it, one must understand the cultural and historical contexts that bring forth these ideas and allow them to be maintained.

Geertz’ “Thick Description” chapter elaborates just how these ideas are born and are distributed amongst cultures. These ideas then have the power to influence future decisions as future ideals and laws are introduced. The author opens up the reading by elaborating on Langer’s theory on the introduction of new ideas into society, how “they burst with tremendous force” and become so popular that they “crowd out almost everything else” (Geertz 1973, 3). This new idea then becomes integrated and accepted as general intellectual knowledge used to explain all aspects of human life. Geertz argues that this idea is applicable to anthropology and the goal to define culture. Instead of taking the ideas about culture that are introduced and declaring them as truth, he explains that the analysis of culture should be “an interpretive one in search of meaning” which is what he attempts to do in these writings (Geertz 1973, 5). Geertz describes culture as webs of significance that man has created himself and suspended himself. This meaning that man creates his own culture by whatever he deems important. He supports his argument about the interpretation of culture by using the study of ethnography and Gilbert Ryle’s notion of “thick description” which explains cultural behavior in context, such that it becomes meaningful and may have different meanings to those integrated in the culture and those outside of it. More importantly, arguing the necessity of using analysis in ethnographic research in order to understand where ideas in different cultures hold their basis and understand their importance. These ideas on cultural analysis are extremely relevant to this course as we continue to read and question where foundational ideas on religion and biotechnology within cultures hold social value and why they exist.

On the first day of class we discussed that in most cases, religion is synonymous with culture.  When reading the next articles, it is important to recall the notion of “thick description” which allows the reader to try to put the actions of an individual or group in the context of their own culture, or in this case, their religion. Hamdy’s article questions if the narrative of religious fatalism, which is the “notion that humans exert little or no control over their own destinies”, prevents people from pursuing biotechnological intervention (Hamdy 2013, 146). This question was placed within the circumstance of organ transplantation for those of Islamic faith. Despite almost all religious leaders declaring that organ donation is “halal”, or permissible, many Muslims face an internal struggle about the ethicalness of transplantation. There are several beliefs in faith that may influence the decision to pursue intervention such as: “the body belongs to God. It belongs to no one else to give away, and it is not for me to take” or the idea that the sickness was God’s will and who are we to try to intervene (Hamdy 2013, 143).

While some physicians may label these patients as “fatalists” or “backward”, the author argues that religion is not the only reason why patients decline organ transplantation. Instead, she says that people’s interpretations and understandings of religion and biomedical efficacy are both taken into account when calculating cost-benefit analysis for medical interventions, such as organ transplantations. They use religious logic, such as the idea that the body is owned by God, in order to help them make decisions that hold both social and medical risks. Because in the eyes of the law, brain death does not equal death, organ donors are still considered alive. As a result, the patient in need of an organ must find their own means of acquiring an organ, either through a family or through the black market. However, many patients do not have the monetary, medical, or ethical means to go about having organ transplantation. The author provides an example of a patient, Ali, who has all of these means yet refuses to get a transplant based on religious morals, specifically that it was God’s plan to test him with this disease. Ali explains that his initial misgivings came from being personally responsible to find his own donor, in this case, his wife, and worry about their pain and health in order to benefit his own – as a result, he turned to God to help him find the strength. Once it was discovered that his wife was not a match, Ali turned back to his faith in God’s will to give him the strength to be on dialysis for the rest of his life. Hamdy uses this example to demonstrate the people embody different ideas on the will of God based on circumstance in order to establish contentment with how much of their lives they feel they control and what they feel they should control. This leads me to believe that the interpretation of God’s will could also be formulated by the idea that it could be God’s will to seek treatment or seek a physician, who could be the tool that God uses to provide health. But all these chosen interpretations can lead to the question of who are we to judge what is or isn’t God’s will? This is why I think Hamdy makes a strong argument that all we can do as humans is interpret it and by having an appreciation of how people choose to embody religion and interpret divine will, we can better understand the ethical formations or decisions that people make.

In “Father, State, Motherhood, and the Birth of Modern Turkey”, Delaney highlights the influence that history and kinship ideas have on the idea of nationalism and therefore have influences on the culture.  The author argues that nationalism is built upon the symbolism of father state and motherland, and as a result, because the nation-state is gendered, then gender inequality is inherently present.  After WWI, the Ottoman Empire’s territory was going to be distributed amongst the British, French, Italians, and Greeks. Mustafa called upon the people to come to the defense of the Motherland who “had been prostituted under the capitulations and was about to be mutilated by the partition” (Delaney 1995, 186). He called upon their sense of honor to protect their mother against those who threatened her. There was an Ottoman Empire and an Ottoman State but never an Ottoman Nation, so Mustafa took the term Turk and used the ideas of father state and motherland to create a new national identity. Women are imagined as soil or earth that needs to be fertilized by the seed of man in order to have growth. As a result, Mustafa took on the name of Ataturk, or “father of Turks”, and became the generative life force that created the new modern western-type nation-state. This transformation had gendered influences on the understanding of who could be considered a citizen. A child of either a Turkish father or mother is a Turk, but only a child of a Turkish father can be a citizen. The conception of the Turkish nation-state was created under gendered themes and has influenced laws and ideas of citizenship. As a result, this leads me to believe that gendered themes, even those based loosely in the notion of nationality, can have the ability to influence national thinking when pertaining to future laws or beliefs on biomedical technology.




Kinship Arguments and Muslim Debates on Alternative Reproductive Techniques


As the articles and our discussion in class have shown, it can be difficult to define any relationship among kin as the definition of a particular relationship varies greatly across economic, cultural, and geographic barriers.

The critique by Susan McKinnon argued against evolutionary psychology’s limited view of kinship relationships, which emphasizes that relationships are “digital”, meaning that an individual either is or isn’t related to another individual in that way. Using an anthropological approach, McKinnon suggests that relationships are not simply formed on the basis of genetic closeness, natural selection, sexual selection, and the environment of evolutionary adaptation but may also be forged simply because humans desire to form new relationships. The most prominent example used in this essay was that of stepparrental relationships and adopted children. Evolutionary psychologists would argue that stepparents that indiscriminately treat their biological and stepchildren would be an “evolutionary anomaly”, and they present the high rates of violence between stepfathers and stepchildren as evidence to support this point. However, McKinnon is quick to point out that many parents are eager to adopt, even when they may already have biological children. She ends her argument by asking why then should adopted and stepparrental relationships should be different for evolutionary psychologists since they are both considered nongenetic or affinal kin. This is a powerful counterargument that should be considered; while evolutionary psychology barely scratches the surface of the broad study of kinship, instead focusing on how relationships form from a biological standpoint, evolutionary psychologists tend to be reductionistic in how they attribute the foundation of all relationships to genetics. For this reason, modern counselors, therapists, and family psychologists all use evolutionary theory as only one perspective to take when viewing kinship and relationship development, alongside social ecological models, social exchange theory, and attachment theory.

The article by Shapiro explicitly opposed McKinnon’s article and its attempts to “deconstruct” evolutionary psychology. He states that most of McKinnon’s arguments pertain to kin terminology differences across cultures rather than kinship, and he appeals this notably while countering the idea of a “multiplicity of mothers” described in McKinnon’s piece. By offering small ethnographic examples, he contends that while the common man has a mother, a mother-in-law, godmother, and even a mother country, not all of these mothers have equal significance as being “motherly”. Shapiro becomes even more adversarial when discussing McKinnon’s ignorance of focality theory and how this error causes a scholar to misrepresent the traditional family. While McKinnon was primarily writing to show flaws in evolutionary psychology and Shapiro opposes McKinnon’s views, he is not clearly in support of the views of evolutionary psychology as he acknowledges its shortcomings. Both of these articles present important commentary and insight into the issue of kinship from multiple perspectives. Personally, I found McKinnon’s accusations of evolutionary psychology to be misplaced and overly adversarial in some areas although I agree the field can be reductionistic in its view. Evolutionary psychology aims to describe how human origins and our biology impacts how we form relationships, not define different types of kin relationships or explore the study of kinship. Shapiro’s view is apt in that it clearly points out this issue.

In class, we discussed that in nearly every society, one of the most basic reasons for a spousal relationship to exist is to reproduce, often both biologically to carry on one’s genes and socially to pass on property and resources. Marcia Inhorn, using her experiences in Lebabon and understanding of Muslim practices, explains that many Islamic religious texts, including the Qur’an prohibit formal adoption and gamete donation as alternative methods to conceive for families for whom IVF has failed repeatedly. Muslims believe that every child should have a mother and father that are clearly defined, without mismatch between social, legal, and biological definitions. Consanguineal children, to whom parents have a tie through nasab (blood relations), are considered a gift from God, so preserving nasab is imperative to Muslims. As such, there seems to be a clear emphasis in their culture on the biological aspect of a parent-child relationship. The idea of being a traditional child is so embedded in Muslim culture that in studies conducted in Egypt and Lebabon, childless men could not accept the idea of social fatherhood and stated that adopted or donor children wouldn’t be their children. As a result, many couples are willing to remain childless to avoid social stigma and apostasy, yet a small proportion of couples exists that would be willing to break religious traditions to satisfy their desire to have children. This may be a very difficult position for many couples, and the decision they ultimately take likely has multiple determinants including moral values prevalent at the time and in the surrounding area, liberal or conservative opinions, and what role religion plays in their lives.

Morgan Clarke’s paper clarifies and restates many of Inhorn’s points including that certain assisted reproductive technologies, such as in vitro fertilization, have been accepted in Muslim societies with certain religious stipulations. The most important of these limits is that any such technology should have a medical reason, usually infertility, and should only involve a husband and wife couple to maintain sexual propriety. Although surrogacy and donation of sperm or an egg is generally forbidden, some Shi’a authorities allow these techniques, particularly for polygamous men when the egg is donated from one of the wives of a husband. Interestingly, breastfeeding confers kinship on a child in Muslim cultures, and it prevents the nursing child from marrying his or her “milk siblings” and the nursing woman. This leads me to ask a question: Since formal adoption is not traditionally allowed, how common it is for women who want children to raise a child and breastfeed them so that they can be considered a member of the family? This seems like a convenient method to bypass any explicit rules against adoption.