16 thoughts on “Class #8 – Hindu Bioethics

  1. Hey Maya! Thank you so much for authentically sharing your thoughts and I appreciate the previous research you engaged with before reading this week’s literature. I additionally appreciate how you delved into Buddhist bioethics and compared Hindu and Buddhist approaches to life. In my discussion post, I hope to explore your comparison of surrogacy and organ donation given my previous conversations of the matter.

    Earlier this semester, I attended a talk in which an emergency room physician spoke about his knowledge of the organ donation system and even the organ donor black market. We explored many ethical questions, some of which you mentioned in your work. Many questions we explored during this talk focused on the capitalist nature of our society, and how this nature complicated the efficacy in which we can create and implement policy over bioethical questions. For example, how do we compensate someone who has donated an organ? How are they cared and paid for during recovery? If they truly are donating out of altruism, then should they not be paid?

    You mentioned some of these questions when noting the importance of ahimsa and nirvana and their ties to altruism that make the ethics of reproductive technology, and especially surrogacy, so difficult. Altruism and capitalism seem so contradictory, yet both of them can hold a very authoritative and tangible weight if we so choose to let them. In terms of the “gift of life” that you mentioned, we must consider the factors in giving this gift. Intention is key.

    In the Made In India documentary, the surrogate essentially donates her womb as an organ. Although she mentions she converted to Islam in marrying her partner, I do wonder how her background as a previously Hindu woman impacted her decisions (and lack thereof).

  2. Hi Maya!
    Thanks so much for a great discussion post! I love that you did some background research before moving into this week’s reading. I feel like that’s an especially important way to make sure you’re understanding the full context of the readings. Your focus on Buddhism and its bioethical views were enormously helpful for me in crystallizing my thoughts and ideas after doing the readings and watching the documentary myself. I particularly appreciate your point about the interpretation of life as a gift under Buddhism. This is interesting to be as it generally conflicts with my personal philosophy. By and large, I would consider life to be simply a natural function (or burden), rather than anything that needs to be lauded or celebrated. Your analysis of how the Buddhist view of life as a gift can end up as a burden is particularly poignant, as it shows me that there are problems that can be created when viewing life from that perspective. Similarly, it’s also interesting to me that the decision making around giving life is supposed to be entirely altruistic in the Buddhist view. It’s clear that in society today, that is not true. In the documentary we watched before break, we saw people being surrogates not out of a sense of altruism, but in an effort to make money. From my perspective, that is an entirely reasonable reason to give life. Even if life is a gift, it is a gift given to you as an individual. It should be your individual prerogative to continue that gift of life for whatever reason, whether that be through organ donation, giving birth or something else. I wonder whether this Buddhist bioethical perspective emphasizes the individual as much as I do in my train of thought, or whether this dichotomy with my view suggests that it de-emphasizes the individual as an autonomous, rational being. Thanks so much for your insightful analysis and great blog post!

  3. Thanks, Maya, this was awesome! It is so shameful that Eastern religions are not more highly regarded and highly prioritized in the Western world. I don’t remember the last time that I, or anyone in my life, thought about whether or not their actions were kind. I’ve thought abt whether they were productive, ethical, ridiculous, and so much more, but rarely kind. I feel that life is rarely thought of as a gift anymore, and instead has been made so technical and scientific. However, something that stuck out to me in the film we watched before the break is that each party did actually act with kindness. really think they were being kind. The Texans felt that they paid handsomely for their baby and increased the quality of their surrogate’s life, and the surrogate, although she was in it in large part for the money, did help them fulfill their dream of becoming parents. The problems arose from the companies and agents who did not adequately facilitate the procedure. They viewed their own business not as a gift but a transaction. The people who wanted the baby viewed it as an enormous gift, but the agency did not seem to. The irony is overwhelming- the very people who bring life into the world seem to value it the least. I think sometimes people shy away from the idea that life is a gift because they don’t want to process the implications of surrogacy and IVF through that lens. If natural life is a true gift, is life grown in test tubes still also a gift? Should they be valued the same?

  4. Hi Maya, thank you for sharing your thoughts on Hindu and Buddhist bioethics. While reading your blog post, I was reminded of what I learned about Buddhist morals and bioethics in my REL 101 class. The Buddha does not demand action by moral authority in the same way that other religious founders do. Buddhism does not have deities that could act as moral authorities, and so no moral judgment exists. In his teachings, though, the Buddha discusses karma (i.e., volitional actions) and karmic effect (either good or bad). Bad karma, or akusala, is bad because it leads to bad karmic effects not because it is sinful or morally wrong. This principle is the natural law that governs actions and is a source of ethical guidance in Buddhism. The presence of ethics in the absence of morals I think is new to our discussion of bioethics. In this way, Buddhist bioethics are distinct from monotheistic bioethics and may prioritize the quality of the action taken over the justification of the ethics. Ultimately, I think that in many cases, any set of bioethics is probably greatly shaped by the local contexts in which it is applied, regardless of the world religion that is being invoked. In the surrogacy video, it seemed that at least 3 different sets of bioethical systems were applied to the situation and still the children were born.

  5. Hi Maya. Thank you so much for your blog post. I appreciated reading your summary of the article and your connections to the film we watched last class. I certainly think your ending question on altruism is a very thoughtful one. It reminds me of a Friends episode where there was an argument between two characters about selfless acts: is there ever really an act you can do that is purely selfless? Some definitions of altruism also include the caveat that you perform acts of kindness at the expense of something for you. These ideas don’t always fit together, and it falls on each of us to find meaning in these themes and ways of life. For example, you tied the readings for tomorrow’s class to the documentary we watched in class. The mother (I believe her name was Lisa but cannot remember) was so excited that she was finally able to have a baby and decided to work for the agency that connected her to her surrogate. I remember her saying that she wanted to give back and help other people find their solutions. It struck me as a little strange in the moment because there was still no guarantee of a child, and the mother was already trying to give back. To further this point, the parents both decided to do this film, though we do not know why. Was it altriusm–in a way, were they trying to shed light on the situation at the expense of their own privacy? Or, perhaps more likely, were they getting a monetary reward for participating in the documentary during this incredibly personal time in their lives?

  6. Thank you Maya. This was great. Great job talking about your time growing up with such an identical religion background around you. Your research before reading was also an impressive initiative. I really appreciate how you mention diversity a lot as something that you enjoyed coming from these readings and also the film from last week. Diversity of belief is one of the most important themes to this course. And the Bhattacharya article speaks on how Hinduism is a very diverse belief system, and the Simpson article speaks on how there is maybe diversity of thought within any Buddhist sect really, on what is altruistic and what is ethical, etc. And lastly with regard to diversity, the film shows two native San Antonians interacting with an entirely different world of cultures, in the Texas way-which is by bringing Texas with them-which made for an uneasy film. And thus, I like how you speak on diversity of beliefs and nuance that must be considered in organ donation, or surrogacy, IVF, etc.
    One thing that I was so interested in from the Simpson article was how IVF from a man could never truly be altruistic, as the sperm was gotten through masturbation. And here, I was a little bit jarred, as it broke the prior flow. That prior flow was from the Bhattacharya article showing interconnectedness in Hinduism with all life, and this great emphasis on altruism in so many ways in Buddhism highlighted by Simpson. But now, there is a strict rule. That was interesting to me.
    Thank you Maya! Awesome job.

  7. Hi Maya! Thank you for your response this week and for your discussion on Simpson’s work in relation to the documentary that we watched in class. What first caught my eye was your elaboration on Hindu and Buddhist beliefs in the second paragraph. For me, the belief that “all living beings must be treated with love and care” and that “harming another living being must be avoided” are concepts that I feel are universal in nature to a degree. In an ethics class that I took last semester, we were able to experience this idea through the perspective of the Dalai Lama, who described global issues through a Buddhist lens and how this perspective related to a largely secular system of thought related to “how to be a good person”. Though the spectrum of what is considered a “living being” can be hotly contested, what is less fought over is the idea that it is the goal of most humans to be “good.” I think that this relates to your discussion about the gift of life. I found your elaboration about the Buddhist ideology surrounding organ donation to be especially interesting – though the act of donating an organ is the same in most situations, you emphasize the importance of context in the measure of “goodness”. This brings up the question, can a person really be altruistic if it is their motive to be altruistic? What if they are donating for monetary compensation and not to be altruistic? In high school, I completed a capstone research project on the body donation industry. I found that while some people donate their body for “the greater good” and for the advancement of science and medicine, others do so because it will decrease funeral costs for their families and can help to alleviate the financial burden that comes with death. In the same breath, the gift of life relates powerfully with the equal and opposite gift of death, which is discussed less frequently due to the fact that it is more ritualized and often more taboo. Similarly, when a man donates sperm, do most really do it “for the greater good”? Is the minimal effort and thought put into the action enough for it to be considered “good”, especially if their only motivation is a few hundred dollars?

  8. Hi Maya! This was a great post analyzing both Hindu and Buddhist perspectives, and I really appreciate you going deeper into Buddhist beliefs to analyze the “gift of life.” I find the concept very interesting, especially in how it applies to gamete donation.
    When you’re dealing with an organ, the issue of whether or not someone is put at a disadvantage is more clear cut: did the person giving up their kidney want to, or were they forced to out of immense financial pressure. However, with gamete donation, the waters are a little muddier. For example, Simpson states that, in Sri Lanka, finding enough sperm donors is a difficulty. Sperm is viewed as “the highest of substances” in their culture, and a donation of sperm would be viewed as a loss by many (853). When it comes to egg donation, the act is less controversial. However, the reasons why egg donation is more acceptable within Sri Lankan society are patriarchal and undermine the autonomy that would usually be sought after from those using reproductive technologies. For example, it is stated that ovum donation is less frowned-upon because the extraction process is painful and laborious as opposed to sperm donation’s quick nature. Additionally, it is more supported due to the common belief that it is the woman’s fault that the couple remains infertile and in need of gamete donation.
    Both sperm and egg donation are “gifts of life” in their own right, but it is interesting how the donation of sperm is viewed as a huge ordeal whereas the donation of an egg is somewhat normalized in the thought processes of many Sri Lankans. This is especially interesting considering sperm donation is quick, easy, and can be done multiple times throughout a single month. However, the rate at which eggs can be collected is much lower. This situation underscores how patriarchy plays a large role in societies, especially when determining access to reproductive technologies.

  9. Hi Maya! Thanks so much for your thoughtful reflection; I’m impressed with how you related this week’s reading to the documentary we watched last week! I appreciate your thorough discussion of the potential issues with organ donation, but I’d love to dig deeper how values of non-violence and general altruism apply to reproductive contexts. As Simpson discusses, there is much variability in what a Buddhist believes to be the most appropriate response in a given situation, based on their moral context. For example: the belief in life as a gift and the importance of sharing that seems pretty concrete in terms of organ donation, but it gets more complicated when discussing conception and other means of creating life; the gift of life to a fetus is sacred, but what if termination of the fetus is critical to the survival of the mother’s life? I’m so glad that you included analysis about altruism and how it extends to multiple contexts, and this idea relates closely to the story in the documentary last week. The Indian surrogate’s intention was clearly not altruistic: she articulated multiple times that her financial situation was the primary motive for her to become a surrogate. The Texan family was also at fault: while they also acknowledged their financial incentives for seeking a foreign surrogate, they justified to themselves and to those filming their journey that they were acting honorably and helping the poor Indian surrogate. However, how do we measure “altruism” in other contexts? That is, how can we be sure that a person is acting truly out of goodness without regard to any sort of incentives? Is there any kind of true altruism left in our societies? One other thing that I wonder- how would a Buddhist moral leader analyze the story of the surrogate? Would they argue that her premature delivery was karmic to her poor motives for carrying in the first place?

  10. Hi Maya! Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful reflection on this week’s readings. I find it interesting that you highlight the Buddhist view of “life as a purposeful event.” I think considering “the gift of life” highlights a tension in both Buddhist and Hindu traditions—that between the self as a temporal (or, in Buddhism, essentially nonexistent) and the self as part of a larger society and cycle of life. At least in my own, perhaps “Western” view, I think each person has the natural proclivity to view themself as an autonomous individual with certain rights. In other words, to view this self as central. In some ways, by seeing “life as a purposeful event,” as you point out, Buddhism accepts this view of the self. However, this contrasts with the view of the self as a part of a larger society, in which the body is something like an outfit or a mask. In this case, giving parts of the body away, as Simpson writes about, is a sign of detaching ourselves from our physical forms in order to get closer to enlightenment. This connects to something I found interesting in Bhattacharyya’s book—the tension between rights and duty. I find this concept especially difficult within my own cultural context, and I wonder if this is a similar difficulty for Buddhists.

    I also appreciated your connection of Simpson’s piece to the film we watched last week. I think you do a great job of pointing out the danger of “altruism”—sometimes, giving the body is not altruistic at all, but simply transactional. I wonder if we could think more concretely about ideas of class, even within our own society, by considering the Hindu idea of caste. Similarly, applying our own ideas about the rights of the individual may reveal that a system that values altruism so highly is perhaps just exploiting the poor. I also wonder if much of the ethical discomfort and difficulty presented to us in the situation we saw in the film was due to a conflict between value systems. Potentially, in the case of surrogacy, I wonder if certain people might view carrying someone else’s child as a kind of “labor,” while others may see it as something closer to a “product” or a “gift.”

  11. Hi Maya! Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful blog post this week, I really enjoyed reading it. Something you emphasized in your post that is something I also pondered while doing the readings (and just in general have also wondered) is whether or not the concept of altruism truly exists. I think I may lean a bit cynical in nature on this concept but my initial reaction is to assume that humans by and large exhibit true altruism very rarely. I think that humans typically engage in seemingly altruistic actions not with bad intentions, but I think humans enjoy the feeling of thinking they are participating in something altruistic–and does the desire for that feeling take away from the actual altruism of the action? Humans do get something in return from altruistic actions: positive feelings about themselves, which for many people, can be a rare and fleeting feeling, increasing the desire to participate in altruistic behaviors. I do think though that all of this depends on how exactly we are thinking about altruism. To use what you discussed, something like organ donation seems like one of the most ultimate acts of altruism, but I do think there is typically some sort of ulterior motive underneath–wanting their family member to live and be in their life, to feel good about themselves because they saved someones life, etc. There is a lot to dive into on the subject of altruism and I hope we get a chance to discuss in class because I am quite curious what others’ opinions are on if true altruism exists. Thanks again for your great blog post!

  12. Hey Maya!
    Thank you for your blogpost, it was written really well—your thoughts were clear and easy to follow. I also understand that being surrounded by the same ideals and approaches to bioethics can limit any person’s way of thinking, and I appreciate you opening up about that experience you had growing up.

    One point that you brought up about if a person feels ‘obligated’ per say to donate an organ to a family member, does it have the ability to be a truly altruistic act? Even if they wanted to due to their kindness? This case also made me think about the reading that mentions the hypothetical about being attached to the violinist to keep them alive. If you are aware that if you ‘disconnected’ that the other person would die, and choose to stay, does that have the ability to be an altruistic act? Or, would in still be considered strictly an obligation?

    Lastly, another point that I really appreciated that you addressed was the relationship between this reading and the documentary, Made in India. When someone is donating from a vulnerable place is that from an altruistic standpoint? In the documentary the surrogate was happy to give a couple the ‘gift of life’, but also she was in it for a large compensation; one that she needed to survive. I believe that this vulnerability was what left us all with an ‘off’ feeling after watching this documentary—the bioethics become more murky when someone is in a seemingly desperate position, but is there a true way where we can make this “more ethical”?

  13. Hi Maya! Great job with your blog post. I really appreciated how you shared your personal experiences and shed some light on your upbringing and community. That was a nice way to start your blog and helped ground the reader in your perspective. I also liked that you did background research on Hindu bioethics ahead of time. Your definition of the terms were a super helpful refresher before you went into a more detailed analysis.

    You did a great job with your analysis of obligation v. personal need/gain v. pure altruism. I am curious what happens when these reasons overlap. If someone is donating an organ to their mother out of altruism, but they also feel an obligation because their mom gave birth to them, how does this impact spiritual relevance? I think this would have been an interesting discussion to include in your blog post. I think it is rare that we make such a big decision, such as organ donation, for a singular reason, as there are lots of factors involved. I hope we have the opportunity to discuss this in class.

    I also would have loved for you to connect this reading to the other reading for this week, as there are some interesting ties, which hopefully we can discuss further in class. Thank you for sharing such a thoughtful blog post!

  14. Hi Maya. I enjoyed reading your blog because I appreciated your curiosity and desire to learn about different religious perspectives. I was interested in learning about Nirvana because from how I interpreted it when I read your blog, Nirvana can be reached by doing good deeds to redeem themselves. I would like to look into at what point can Nirvana not be reached because one has committed too many sins. Can every sin be redeemed by doing good deeds, or are there some sins that are so cruel that Nirvana is unreachable for them? I would assume that most Buddhist would say that Nirvana can be reached by anyone to encourage people to do good deeds. However, I am sure that there are Buddhists who believe that Nirvana may be impossible to reach for others. It was also interesting to read about how the feeling of debt can become a problem because the act of gifting may not be genuine. That’s interesting to me because in many southeast Asian countries that have a majority population of Buddhists, it is common to be aware of debt. I wonder how often this mindset clashes with genuine acts of gifting and how much of this is blamed for when someone feels as though they did not elevate towards a higher spiritual standing.

  15. Maya,
    I really enjoyed reading your summation of the articles, and I found the background research you did to be very helpful and a nice addition to your writing. I liked how you really focused on the idea of the “gift of life”, providing examples and explaining the caveats. Though it is not how I view life, I do find it interesting how other cultures and religions view reproduction and it helps me better understand the decisions they make when it comes to topics such as reproductive technology. I want to consider your question– does true altruism really exist? I struggle with that question, but I think ultimately our own values and beliefs will impact our decisions. Even if we do something simply because it is “the right thing to do”, that is still our own moral obligation leading us to make that decision. Is that altruism? In the case of the Indian surrogate, she made it very clear she was only interested in financial compensation. While that was not altruistic, is the Texan family still at fault for requesting her services as a surrogate? Should it be okay to have ulterior motives as long as you’re still giving the “gift of life”?

  16. Hi Maya! I have very similar opinions to you about the complexity of human culture and religion. Buddhism is usually seen as very free and not heavily organized. At least that is how it was portrayed to me while growing up. I do admit that I have not had any heavy Buddhist or Hindu influence, is this week’s readings was very interesting to me. I am familiar with concepts such as Karma and reincarnation, but I had not heard of the gift of life. However, the concepts of the gift of life challenges the free will of the individual. I also find myself in this class thinking that two things can be right at the same time. I dont attribute my beliefs to my religion, however, I do agree with the concept of the gift of life. Most people do looking at the big picture. I believe every human being has a purpose on Earth; however, that belief also complicates subjects like abortion. However, in these circumstances, I think you have to pick which moral code is better for you, because two things can be right at the same time. You can believe that life is sacred, but can also agree that despite, life being a gift, financial stability, emotional matureness can affect the quality of someones life. There are plenty of people who have abortions, who believe life is sacred, but they also understand that quality of life is important for the potential new life and their own life.

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