17 thoughts on “Reproduction and Natural Law Reflection

  1. This blog is effective in summarizing and connecting the key points of the readings from this week. It is also impressive how you meld your own religious upcoming with each of the readings here, and relate back to your current living setting and your current educational goals.
    I have a few questions. First of all, I see that you question if we have already eaten from this tree of knowledge from the garden of Eden. I then ask, how do you think this relates to “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Reproduction”, as far as this motif they display of humans “playing god” when it comes to abortion, or IVF technology? You speak on the ideas of this reading about the sanctity of marriage being specifically binding. In response, I ask, what place do the authors of this reading have to compare artificial procreation eugenics, as they use social justice to push for conservativism in as you put, “more progressive and socially liberating” world. Lastly, I ask, what importance does this truth put forward by Don Seeman about when cultures around the world consider one a living being (e.g. babies are babies at conception in Japan but not until much later in Israel) have to play in this discourse about assisted reproduction.
    There were a few things in this blog that were unclear to me. You speak on the tone of “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Reproduction” being authoritative and how this affects the showcasing of doctrine. What is unclear though to the reader is how the tone is this way because from the blog the reader only knows summarized content and so I would suggest maybe that you expound (just a little bit). Otherwise, this is very well put together and a great synthesis.

  2. I really appreciate how succinctly you summarized the readings for today. Specifically, I want to touch on your own experiences that you described and how your upbringing influenced how you read and interpreted the readings. I also come from a small religious school, and I agree that it has immensely impacted the way I see the world and especially how I see the problems discussed this week. I appreciate how you brought up that the tone of “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Reproduction” seems extremely harsh; as someone who is not Catholic, it was difficult for me to get through the reading as the ideas and beliefs expressed by the author had a solid foundation, but I did not feel it could be applied to more than just those who are extremely devout to the Church. The text continues to explore how life begins at conception and how we must preserve the integrity of the living or dead embryo as for Catholics, the fertilized embryo is considered living. For others, conception begins later (in Judaism, I believe life begins at the first breath). The implications of this belief–that an embryo is considered the same way as an infant–are vast and expansive, evident by the information on how the Church views experimentation.

    I’d like to take a moment to touch on how experimentation for therapeutic and other interventions is viewed in these readings. As someone who is interested in science, I am very happy that there are ethical guidelines by which science has to abide when it comes to embryonic cells; however, it is interesting how the Catholic church approaches the topic. With the technology we have today, my understanding is that all cells, in theory, could be brought back to an embryonic stage of development and redifferentiated into different cell types. Does this mean the church is against all experimentation on human cell lines? What about animal models (mice, monkeys, etc)? From a scientific perspective, a living cell (or an embryonic cell) has a different definition from the Church. Religion and science often disagree and clash, but I wonder about the delicate balance struck by this text on the importance of innovation, but not at the expense of a young embryo.

  3. Hi everyone!
    I just wanted to thank Paige for getting us rolling and Leah and Rowan for their thoughtful comments, I look forward to reading all of yours!


  4. Hi Paige! Thanks so much for this reflection on this week’s readings. Overall, I found your blog post to be enormously helpful in guiding me as I went through the readings and attempted to formulate my own opinions and understandings. When I was younger, I was exposed to religion in many of the same ways you mentioned, including studying the Bible in general and Genesis in particular both in church and in weekly religion classes. Even reading it now, years removed from that Catholic education, I found my interpretation of the assigned sections to be heavily influenced by lectures and sermons I had heard previously. I’m definitely curious if you felt your reading was influenced in the same ways. Relating to your question on authority over reproductive matters, I find this to be a particularly interesting question considering both the reading on “Instruction on Respect” and given the larger context. Obviously, the Catholic Church does not exert total authority over reproductivity across the globe- though Catholicism has a large following, that certainly doesn’t represent a majority or even a plurality of the global population following it. Even among Catholics or people who were raised Catholic, not everyone follows the Church’s reproductive doctrine. So, on the note of authority, it is interesting to question how much authority the Church really has when they’re producing documents like “Instruction on Respect.” Does such a document actually matter when only a small portion of the world follows it, or is the Church functionally just trying to flex authority it doesn’t have?
    I would definitely also be interested in hearing more detail on your opinion of the origins of humanity. As you say, humans have inherent dignity, but an important question in the context of these readings is when exactly humanity starts. Differing opinions on this contribute hugely to the differences in religious reasoning on issues ranging from abortion, to IVF, and more. As a whole, I found your blog on this week’s reading to be a clear and concise summation and analysis of the text, and, while it did create some further questions in my mind, contributed greatly in deepening my understanding of the text.

  5. I feel that the main point of Professor Seeman’s piece was to illustrate that reproductive technologies and attitudes towards them must be studied and understood in the context of those societies in order to properly understand them. I feel that this is thought-provoking for a number of reasons. First, how do we place ourselves in the context of other societies in a way that allows for thoughtful and thorough ethnographic responses? Second, it implies that we as a society are ethnocentric in examining reproductive technology. An inherent sense of superiority comes with the idea of reproductive technologies in the”western world.” Along these same lines is Seeman’s idea that attitudes about reproductive technology do not always reflect one’s attitude toward technology itself. In other words, reproductive technology can serve as a catalyst for understanding one’s religious, social, and political viewpoints.
    Because much of what we study relates to the connection between religion and technology, I am curious as to how atheists see reproductive technology. I am also curious in the ways that the strict teachings of the Church have manifested themselves in more liberal and progressive Christian circles. The idea that the infertile woman has no value seems counterproductive to spreading the doctrine of Christianity.

  6. Thank you for your detailed summary. I want to compare the point you made about how in the reading “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Reproduction”, humans are “play ing god” to the concepts talked about in “Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things In Between”. As you mentioned, there is a very strict and condescending tone throughout the document. I can understand why the language is this way: the Catholic Church is an institution with set rules that are not to be changed. However, with new reproductive technologies and scientific procedures, it is impossible to ignore that the doctrine’s views may perhaps seem outdated. There may be many “loopholes” that can be found in the scientific world to go around restrictions regarding reproductive technologies and organ transplantation. When reading the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Reproduction”, I could not help but think about the statement made in in the reading “Deus in Machina: Religion, Technology, and the Things In Between”. The statement was in regards to the situation in Egypt regarding organ transplantation and donation. Although many religious entities of high authority in official positions have stated that it is permissible to donate organs (this is applied to both Muslims and Copic Christians), many Egyptians are still against the idea of donating their organs. This abstention even extends to patients and physicians that understand the consequences of not accepting organ donation (often times death). The connection between these 2 readings raises a lot of questions for me. Does the language in the doctrine have a say in people’s decisions? In other words, are individuals scared to make decisions on their health that can significantly change their lives, whether it Is undergoing treatment to have a child or to accept an organ essential to one’s survival, because of the consequences they will endure religiously, as stated by the Church or by Islamic law? Is it truly “playing G-d” when one accepts an organ or undergoes fertility treatments, or is it taking an opportunity presented by G-d in order to live a “better” life. At the end of the day, doesn’t G-d truly decide whether the organ will be accepted or if the treatment will work? In the end, “playing or not playing G-d” can end up meaning the same thing: humans can interfere and make or not make decisions regarding their health, but they have no control over, and cannot guarantee, what will truly happen to them.

  7. Hi Paige, I think you did a wonderful job summarizing the readings from this week and I really enjoyed how you weaved some of your own experience into your response. Unlike you, I feel a bit out of my wheelhouse this week. I didn’t grow up religious nor have I had much, if any, exposure to religious texts or doctrines. So, I found these readings to be a bit daunting, but I enjoyed having your blog post to refer back to as I made my own interpretations of the reading. Something that I found really interesting from “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and the Dignity of Reproduction” was the consistent verbiage of “respect” used not only in the title, but throughout the piece. I thought the use of the word “respect” as opposed to a word like “acknowledgement” or “recognition” deliberately adds a pathos that makes the reader attach a deeper level of morality into how they view the beginning of human life. While I disagree with what the Catholic Church stands for in terms of reproductive issues, it was really eye-opening to read this piece and see their logic that led them to their stances. Something you touched on that I took away from Dr. Seeman’s piece, “Ethnography, Exegesis and Jewish Ethical Reflection: The New Reproductive Technologies in Israel,” was the significance of ethnography in complexifying the often rigid and reductive dominant narratives of reproductive technologies. I think that so often, actual human experiences are ignored in discussions about reproductive issues. In order to have a true understanding of this topic, in addition to having theoretical understandings, we must know how this all functions in real societies, with real people. Once again, I really enjoyed reading your blog post Paige and I look forward to discussing more in class!

  8. Paige, your description of how your perspective on morality, ethics, and what constitutes human dignity has evolved is connected to prominent themes in this week’s readings. Most of the bioethical frameworks discussed in the readings find morality in the criterion of “nature.” That is, what is natural (whether that’s according to God or The Declaration of the Rights of Man or some other doctrine) is moral. For the Catholic church, this standard of biblically prescribed naturalness has significantly limited the number of reproductive strategies available to Catholics in good standing. These restrictions have emotional and spiritual costs for many devout Catholics who depend on reproductive technology to conceive. In response to comments on how good Catholics could be allowed to suffer from infertility, Pope Benedict returns the conversation to natural rights, writing “a true and proper right to a child would be contrary to the child’s dignity and nature. The child is not an object to which one has a right nor can he be considered as an object of ownership” (168). As Professor Seeman points out, even secular societies like France have taken ideas about “nature” and “natural kinship” from secular doctrine as a strategy to regulate emerging reproductive technologies. Returning to your post, your belief in the Catholic church’s assertion of the dignity of human life and your simultaneous rejection of the church’s narrow conception of marriage shows the flexibility and variety of scriptural interpretation. This is particularly helpful to remember when thinking about how Catholic and Jewish attitudes toward reproductive technologies can differ so greatly when they are rooted in the same text. For Israeli Jews, a departure from the “natural” criterion and reliance instead on halachah for guidance on reproductive technology has allowed for many more fertility strategies compared to other western states.

    After finishing this week’s readings I wonder if Israel’s embrace of reproductive technology and the US’s more hesitant adoption of the same strategies has something to do with religious diversity within the countries as well. Does the fact that political and religious authority overlap in Israel rob Israelis of “the ability to have an informed public debate about the tremendous public resources that go into providing this technology… and the ethics of its relatively unrestricted use”? Or, has a general distrust of the US political system and politicians hindered the adoption of reproductive technologies in America?

  9. Hi Paige, thanks so much for starting off our discussion with such an insightful reflection into the readings. I appreciate the perspective you bring to the table with your Catholic upbringing, and I think it’s incredibly mature that you’ve been able to distance yourself from such a rigid dogma while still seeing the benefits and good intentions of the Church’s teachings.

    I agree in that I also believe that “Instruction on Respect for Human Life” outlines rules that are very rigid, and the fact that these rules have not updated since its release in 1987. In addition, after reading Dr. Seeman’s own “Ethnography, Exegesis, and Jewish Ethical Reflection,” I can very much see that the Catholic Church derives its teaching from Genesis. It is very concerned with the methods from which embryos are created, even detailing that homologous IVF and artificial insemination are “imperfect” compared to the traditional method of intercourse. They very much emphasize that humans should be separated from “playing God,” and I believe that the emphasis on Genesis for the basis of their teachings is derived from this concept. However, nowhere in Genesis does it outline humans’ own ability for creation, nor does it go into detail on the nature of normal human creation. I personally believe that the Church already held its views strong, and it sought out verification of those views in the text, as opposed to the other way around.

    In addition, I think the Israeli approach to issues on alternative fertility methods is where I most closely align, based on more modern Jewish interpretations of Leviticus. The Israeli practice of providing IVF services to single women and lesbian couples, in my opinion, services the biblical emphasis on procreation. It aligns with the general motivations of the text, populating the human race, instead of focusing on minutia that would hinder its progress as the Catholic church does.

    Personally, I think too much emphasis has been put on biblical semantics instead of reading into the intentions behind the text. This allows for little room for interpretation and results in dogmatic beliefs that confine people into acting certain ways.

  10. Hi Paige! Thank you so much for sharing – I appreciate your willingness to be vulnerable about your own experiences, especially surrounding such a complex topic. I also attended Christian school from kindergarten to twelfth grade, but unlike you, I have not yet paused to think about how my education in such an environment may have molded my perceptions of morality and other ethics. I came to Emory because I wanted to challenge aspects of my upbringing and explore other belief systems, something that I feel I am beginning to do. Your commentary on the Genesis reading, particularly your questioning of whether we as a species have “eaten the fruit” stood out to me. Much like the Donut Vitae, your reflection forced me to consider a balance between science and values, evidence and emotion, past and present – a dichotomy of facts and figures with faith. I hope that I will continue to explore this tension throughout the rest of this course and as I begin to develop more of my own identity.

  11. Paige, you provided a concise and accurate summary of the readings from this week. Growing up in the south, I related a lot to what you had to say about your own experiences with religion and changing worldviews as you came to college. With this background, I found I had an expanded understanding of how the doctrine was developed in relation to Christian beliefs. When referring to “Instruction on Respect for Human Life”, I agree that the language used was rigid. Using the basis of respect for human life for the rejection of reproductive technology seemed a little manipulative; I find it a subjective opinion that using resources such as IVF or surrogacy is disrespectful to human life. You brought up an excellent point by asking how it, and other texts, might be received differently if the tone and language were presented differently. Seeing as it was written in 1988, it makes me question why it has not been updated as the possibilities of artificial reproductive technology have expanded. Dr. Seeman’s piece “Ethnography, Exegesis, and Jewish Ethical Reflection” shows how other cultures and religions have adapted their teachings and opinions to reflect expanding technology. Seeing the benefits it has brought Isreal and Judaism, I hope the Catholic church can expand its opinion and rules in the realm of reproductive technology.
    Genesis chapters 1 and 2 can be used as an outline for how the Catholic church views marriage; marriage is between a man and a woman and they are instructed to multiply the earth. Instead of rejecting artificial reproductive technology, I think this could be used as support for it. Reproductive technology allows for otherwise infertile couples to have children and “multiply the earth”. This is an example of how the interpretation of texts plays a major role in religion, and maybe it is not as binary as people think.
    In your summary, I think your background of biblical knowledge sometimes expanded past the scope of what we have read for this class. You seemed to lean into it to support your writing rather than using the texts at times. However, I think you did an excellent job of expressing and explaining your feelings on the topic while providing a helpful summary.

  12. Hi Paige! One of the first things you bring up is the issue of knowledge of responsibility. You note how in Genesis, God is the creator, then that Adam and Eve are instructed to create. I found it very intriguing that you ask whether we’ve already “eaten the fruit from the tree” and that you propose “we know too much.” I think this gets at the idea of “limits” in our “dominion over nature,” and one of the main things we’re confronting—as technology advances and we gain more knowledge, humans increasingly are able to take on the role of God. Sometimes it seems like ignorance would be bliss (though I wonder if ignorance is really possible—Professor Seeman suggests in his article that questions about reproductive technologies are not necessarily new.) If we don’t prescribe to religious doctrine, where do we draw the line? I also wonder, if we take Genesis seriously, and believe God has instructed us to create, why not play God?

    You follow this with the question of whether “we” see human life as sacred. I found it interesting that you write specifically about believing all humans have an “inherent dignity” and note that this may stem from your religious upbringing. As someone who grew up in a mostly non-religious family and community, I think it goes without saying that even people who are not religious still have a sense of what is “natural”—everyone has their own morality that guides them. Most people, religious or not, would agree that human life has value; the disagreement isn’t really about whether or not life has value but about what exactly constitutes human life.

    I think one argument against much of the doctrine laid out in the document is that preventing the use of various reproductive technologies lessens the value of life for many women (not to mention the limitations the doctrine places on marriage and viable ways of conceiving children.) Doctrine like this limits freedom and also presents various contradictions, such as the question that arises when life begins at conception—whose life is more important, the mother’s or the child’s? That said, I think one of the things the document really emphasizes is the social implication of reproductive technologies and, again, the responsibility that comes with freedom. The document briefly discusses prenatal diagnosis—if parents want to find out whether their baby will have a hereditary illness, this is fine, but it should not lead to an abortion. If we allow people to abort fetuses diagnosed with hereditary illness, is it also okay to kill people with hereditary illness who have already been born? Given all of this, I found it interesting that you bring up marginalization. I think this goes back to the question of social implications—does the concept of choice perhaps relieve societies of the responsibility of providing the resources needed for its children to live viable lives? By allowing the free use of various reproductive technologies, are we implicitly denying the value of certain (marginalized) lives?

    I appreciate your emphasis on looking inward to understand our own morals, and also your point that in doing this it’s important to turn outward, too, to look at how reproductive decisions play out in the societies around us. Thank you for sharing your summaries and reflections on the readings!

  13. Hi Paige, thank you for starting off our scholar blog with such a thorough and detailed response. I was really excited to learn more about your background attending conservative Catholic schools. I am also from the Chicago area, so I love hearing about different educational experiences my peers have had, especially when they are just a short drive away!

    I want to highlight a point you mentioned about Adam and Eve. You ask, “have we, too, already eaten the fruit from the tree?” I think this is a fascinating question. You briefly connect this question to reproductive technology, but I would love to see you explore this connection a bit further.

    I think you make a great point in emphasizing the authoritative tone that the Catholic Church takes, suggesting little room for deviation from their instructions/teachings. Personally, I am interested in learning more about how the Church reconciles their belief that reproductive technologies must not be used outside of marriage with the Church’s effort to spread Catholicism. From my understanding, Catholicism is one of the religions that makes an effort to convert non-Catholics and encourages large families. If this is true, then I would think they would want more Catholics, and thus Catholics to reproduce by any means possible. I am curious how the Church would respond to this tension in their teachings.

    I thought you also had an insightful takeaway from the readings about Judaism “molding” to adapt to new reproductive technologies. This is something I am interested in learning more about throughout the course. I am curious if other religions also have this flexibility in their teachings, especially since technology has advanced so much since they were established.

  14. Hi Paige. I enjoyed reading your blog and your writing style. I appreciate how you connected the readings to what you learned growing up. I also appreciate how you gave a brief summary of each reading before diving into your thoughts. This made it easier for me as the audience to understand. I have never been taught any religious texts other than the few times I have read religious texts in school, so my experience reading these texts was a lot different from your experience. Reading the Book of Genesis was completely new content to me, and I did question the content. Both the Book of Genesis and “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Reproduction” were similar to me in that the wording was straightforward, but not much was explained. For example, the Book of Genesis repeatedly stated how God saw creation as good, therefore it was good. Additionally, “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in its Origin and on the Dignity of Reproduction” repeatedly stated how God gave us the gift of life, so we must take responsibility for it. I agree that the language is authoritative. I would add that both of these readings make bold claims, but make little to no reasoning behind these claims. As someone who has had little to no experience in Christianity, it is difficult for me to be influenced by these readings. Therefore, I agree with you that these readings should consider rewording the texts to make them more suited to more people of different backgrounds.
    I also believe that this generation has eaten the fruit from the tree, and that has affected our mental health and awareness. Nowadays, it is normal for us and our peers to be aware of major news in most parts of the world, from homicides to wars. I believe that this has affected how we view ourselves, similarly to how the fruit made Adam more aware of himself. However, I question whether this knowledge is completely bad for the world. After all, I’ve noticed how our generation is much more motivated to speak up against wrongdoings in the world and make changes. Overall, I thought that you wrote your blog in a way that was effective and easy to read, especially for someone new to this content. I appreciate how you connected the readings to our current news, such as Roe v. Wade. There is nothing that I would change about your blog.

  15. There are a few points that Paige points out that I also have similar opinions. For example, I also believe that every human is entitled to basic dignity and that should be protected by not only them but other people as well. With this point, I have to agree with the church that I believe in protecting the dignity and lives of children; however the issue is how far back do we protect those rights. The Catholic church is adamant that life starts at conception, however, that is not my belief.
    I think this is a major problem with organized religion. Most people agree with the bigger picture that we should protect children and families. Most of us agree to treat others how we want to be treated. However, organized religion does take it a step forward and puts those emotions, basic principles into rules to abide by. However, interpretations and perspectives differ from person to person. Using genesis as an example, the book of genesis is one of the most famous books of the bible. Despite there being dozens of Christian denominations, the book of genesis is taught within all of them. However, each denomination interprets this same book in different ways and then applies their interpretation into a way for which ALL of their members are to follow.
    Therefore this divide between morality and the universal application causes rifts in what we consider to be the morally right or wrong way to behave. The readings this week also highlight my own divide in morality. There are some things I just don’t have my mind made up on yet such as the effect that surrogacy or IVF has on the child. There have been studies that show children who are not raised by their biological parents do experience trauma on some level. However, you can’t say everyone goes through trauma and that this trauma is minute in comparison to others but it still brings about the right of living children which are not usually considered.

  16. Hey Paige!
    I am happy that this class and time has allowed you to reflect on your experience in a religious institution at a young age and how it formed your beliefs and thoughts, and thank you for sharing that. I feel like that is the reality for many people, but they do not realize it until they are much older. I really liked the point questioning who we view as authority with these matters, because are scientists the people who now ‘have authority’ over what is morally okay to do within the reproductive realm. Similarly to Sophie, I find it fascinating that there is such a connection between religion and technology–especially reproductive technology. There are certain connotations that come along with an individual’s stance on reproductive technology and abortion rights. Also Paige, I agree that the Doctrine seemed very aggressive in its presentation—leaving no room for specific situations or different moral stances. Professor Seeman’s helps us understand that there are other religions and cultures in which the ‘moral standings’ in regard to reproduction can evolve as technology evolves. Lastly, a point that was touched on in other comments about the balance of ‘strict’ Christianity but having other moral beliefs in regard to reproduction is something I am curious about too. It seems as though some things are seen as ‘not okay’ anymore in the Bible, or religious texts in general, but others are still seen as law. What determines that and why do a few people have the power to determine which is moral or not?

  17. Hello Paige and thank you for your thoughtful response to the readings! To begin, I appreciate the perspective that you brought to your analysis as a young adult who was brought up within a conservative religious community. I feel that your experience is representative of a new generation that is not necessarily more secularized in their belief systems, but more willing to scrutinize, criticize, and reinterpret long standing views of their religions. While I feel that this shift is partially due to modern advancement and the need for religion to adapt to remain relevant, you bring up some interesting points that changed the way I thought about and interacted with this week’s readings. Specifically, when discussing Dr. Seeman’s publication regarding the Jewish perspective on modern reproductive technologies in Israel, you discuss his point that “traditional Jewish ethical framework must be adapted” to accommodate for the advancements being made in the sphere of reproductive science. As a Jewish-American adult raised in conservative synagogues throughout my life and a product of modern reproductive technology, I agree with your point that “respect evolves” – if Jewish law did not work in conversation with modernization, my conservative Jewish parents would have remained childless. Your discussion brings up the important point that while some systems of belief fight against innovation in favor of what they believe to be God’s natural creations, others do not view this as a fight but rather an opportunity for reinterpretation in order to maintain relevancy. This brings up the convoluted question that most of the argument around this topic boils down to – are the creations of God’s creations still God’s creations?
    Though this question is hotly debated, what remains clear is the fact that religion exists in part to provide a framework of beliefs, values, and understandings that people can interact with in their construction of their human experience. Some interpret it as a rule of law, others interpret it as a guide, and some leave no place in their lives for it. Regardless, the level of pushback that a system of thought receives on their ideologies again relates to the concept of relevance. Common understandings, such as those commanding us to honor our elders or not to steal are easily ingrained in our lives; however, refutation begins when a religious doctrine challenges something that is socially acceptable in today’s context. The spectrum of abiding by the book versus abiding by socially constructed rules is intricate and complex, as you have pointed out. It gets increasingly difficult when this spectrum becomes involved in politics and law, like you mentioned in your last paragraph when bringing up the case of Roe vs. Wade. After reflecting on your analysis, I do have one question I have regarding your experience: why is it important that people question the validity and totality of their ascribed belief systems?

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