15 thoughts on “Week 8: Hindu Bioethics

  1. Hi Madeleine! Thank you for sharing your insights on this week’s readings, and specifically your thoughts particularly on Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Assisted Reproductive Technology by Swasti Bhattacharyya. I found particularly fascinating the links you described between fiction, philosophy, and reality that I would like to expound on further.

    I agree that fiction has a power in making the seemingly inaccessible tenets of philosophy accessible to a broader audience. In my work as an IDS major, I am currently looking at how different mediums, and in particular children’s books, create spaces for children to access deeper aspects of a human life through brief interaction with these elementary texts. I understand what Bhattacharyya means when she explains that myths hold power in offering alternative options and applications for these larger existential and ethical questions that mortal humans hold about life.

    Additionally within IDS, I have recently looked into the use of monsters within narratives and how they effectively draw lines between human and non-human in fictional stories. Oftentimes, too, when a monster dies, their death must be on display. I see a lot of parallels drawn here with the ethical questions and dilemmas surrounding reproductive technology. How do we “monstrosize” different parties in these dilemmas? Who really becomes the victim? How do we create narratives to frame different participants in different lights? I appreciate how you began the conversation about this, while also touching on the duty we may have to navigate these seemingly unending questions.

  2. Hey Madeleine, thanks so much for your blog post! I love your analysis of Bhattacharyya and Simpson in concert with one another. It was very effective at putting both pieces into the broader perspective and contexts of both religious bioethical perspectives. I found your note on the importance and centrality of the society in Hindu bioethics to be particularly interesting. My personal perspective would suggest that society’s rights should play second fiddle to the rights of the individual. This should hold true even though society has a vested interest in continued procreation, because its interest is in societal survival. Creativity in procreation is also interesting to me, as you discussed from within the Mahābhārata. It’s clear from the reading and your post that this sort of flexibility is important in responding to the intrinsic patriarchy built into the procreative system. But at the same time, it is clear that this flexibility is incredibly limited by societal concerns and by the implications of their actions. Because of this, it is unclear to me whether the creativity is actually creating some freedom, or whether the social and consequentialist concerns are too limiting to actually exist. Thanks again for your post!

  3. Hi Madeleine, I think you ask an amazing question when you ask us to consider our duties not just our rights. Is it our duty to help people who cannot procreate themselves bring life into the world? Hindu ethics emphasizes our unity and interconnectedness in a way that many Western religions don’t. Happiness for your neighbor may mean happiness for you. In what ways then are you obligated to help?

    I also think you raise a great point when say that fiction bridges the gap between philosophy and understansing. What is so great about these Hindu texts is that it personalizes the narratives of IVF and surrogates so that some of the shame and stigma that women in the Western world experience is gone. It makes it so that these ideas are widespread and respected, but it also means that the process itself, in the eyes of a Hindu, is innately religious. Bhattacharya makes an interesting point when he says that “religious thinkers were so influential in the formation of the field of bioethics because they were able to clearly articulate important insights” (11). This is the first argument I have heard that religious thinkers are actually better equipped to handle these issues BECAUSE they are religious. Bhattacharya goes on to argue that their ability to articulate vague and difficult concepts about life, death, and suffering makes them an asset to these discussions rather than a liability. Growing up with doctors as parents, I was taught that secular objectivity was the best course of action, but this argument made me question whether or not that is true.

  4. Hi Madeleine. Thank you for your blog post and your discussion of the readings. I really appreciated how you explained the myths used in the book. One of my interests, like yours, lies in storytelling and how stories are used and told through time. I really enjoyed that parts of the argument in the book were tied back to myth as a basis for understanding. I think every culture uses myth and stories as a foundation for the society that comes next. Specifically with these stories, it is interesting to see biblical female characters taking control, in a way, of their own reproductive histories. They maintain a semblance of autonomy that other female characters in other foundational texts often lack. Many times, if someone were to go looking through foundational texts like the Bible or even ancient myths like those of the Greek Pantheon, it’s very rare to see a woman take control and not be ostracized for it or only immortalized as heroic after she is long gone/on her deathbed. Additionally, as touched on before, myth and story are foundational to our society today. Seeing these women take control while obeying the cultural expectations paves the way for a very different set of ethics compared to those described in, for example, Donum Vitae.

  5. Awesome job here Madeleine. Thank you for taking it away and unpacking the Bhattacharya book and all the myths and stories within it. The emphasis on duty highlighted by Bhattacharya juxtaposed with the Buddhist emphasis on altruism which was highlighted in the Simpson article. Duty is such an interesting way to look at ethical issues. I don’t have to give my friend gas money. But there is duty there. But what if I don’t care about the duty? And I just give my friend gas money. That is just altruism right there. And yet, there is such diversity surrounding what is duty and what is altruism. It would have been cool to see you add the altruism emphasis of Buddhism highlighted by Simpson, and use that in your analysis of Bhattacharya’s discourse of the Hindu perspective on abortion. Is it duty to keep the child, or is autonomy more important? Or are there varying levels of duty? Is there an element of altruism in continuing an unwanted pregnancy? How would that be viewed from the Buddhist perspective? I do not know.
    What I would like to understand better is the thresholds of certain ethical dilemmas. From the readings, and also the film from last week, I could see the importance in nuance when making ethical decisions. But when I read about the women in the story from Bhattacharya’s article, I can see thresholds on what is socially acceptable. I guess that my question then is, what decides that threshold? Is it significant, or just plain arbitrary?
    Thank you!

  6. Hello Madeleine! Your response did a great job of engaging Bhattacharyya’s text, and I appreciate the time that you spent at the beginning to develop context for those unfamiliar with Hindu society. It reminded me of the importance to step back and understand the larger picture and how it related to your argument, for socioeconomic status is a very present force that works alongside culture and tradition to shape the belief systems of practicing Hindus. I found int interesting that despite operating in a different type of society in a different region of the world, Hinduism still shares similarities to Judeo-Christian and Muslim traditions in the sense that a patriarchal system contributes to the values and behaviors of individuals. However, something that sets Hinduism apart is the fact that their patriarchal system does not separate women from their autonomy over their bodies in the same way that others have. The viewing of the female body as magical and independent with regards to reproductivity (within a set of cultural restraints) serves as a stark contrast to what we have already been exposed to. Your comparison of a Judeo-Christian God with Hindu gods also serves as an important piece of contextualization – the loosened power dynamic between Hindu gods and human beings communicates an increased level of cooperation and freedom when it comes to reproduction. From this understanding, it would be interesting to note how followers of Hinduism relate to artificial insemination, how this relationship varies across their diverse religious landscape, what specific pieces of myth or philosophy different sects look to for guidance, and how this relates to the individual community culture that forms around their sect. I also found your point interesting that followers of Hinduism are apt at using such aforementioned philosophy to create a variety of “answers” to questions of ethics. While Bhattacharyya mentions the fact that the bible relies on this concept to communicate its relatively inflexible doctrines, I think it is important to note that many religious sects in the Judeo-Christian realm do have similarly malleable holy texts. The Talmud, for example, in Judaism provides stories and lessons that rabbis can interpret differently to reach a different conclusion. Overall, your piece was excellent and a thought-provoking approach to Bhattacharyya’s work.

  7. Hi Madeleine! I really appreciated your detailed reflection on Bhattacharyya’s book for this week. I was very interested in your paragraph in which you mention creativity in women’s’ procreative abilities as well as dharma and karma in the context of procreation.
    I think the fact that there are multiple differing opinions on reproductive technologies within the Hindu religion is an interesting thing in itself, as we see many other religions such as Catholicism taking authoritative stances that are often directly from the church leaders. However, it also creates a conflict within the religion. For example, in “Application of Hindu Thought,” Bhattacharyya illustrates the opinions of Gupta and Lingam who say that reproductive technologies should not be used within the Hindu religion because they reinforce the idea that woman’s role in society is to reproduce. Soon after, it is shown that other Hindu ethicists agree that IVF should be used. However, the argument for IVF presented frames the reasoning in a way that could be harmful. The New York State Task Force on Life and the Law’s mention of Hindu perspectives on IVF states that “assisted reproduction is acceptable, therefore not only to address fertility problems but also the lack of male children” (81).
    I think it is quite interesting that the philosophies behind the arguments are reversed from what is traditionally seen. Proponents of reproductive technologies usually place women’s’ autonomy high on their priorities list, while opponents view the natural reproductive process as paramount. However, the pro-technology argument is used for the sake of increased male production in society, showing that the autonomy of the mother is not the more important aspect. Conversely, the anti-technology argument is coming from a place of respecting women’s autonomy to not be forced to have children. Additionally, the fluid and interpretable nature of dharma allows for two different interpretations of women’s dharma in the reproductive context: either to maintain their own self-interest or to serve the interest of greater society.

  8. Hi Madeleine! Thank you so much for this thoughtful reflection – I really appreciate the way you framed your response and I find it very engaging. I was also a little confused by the narratives Bhattacharyya chose to include, but I feel that I am slowly beginning to understand her goals in doing so. We have talked about being “attuned” or biased towards certain beliefs based on our backgrounds and other experiences. However, Hinduism proposes a broader, more integrated perspectives on moral/ethical issues; rather than asserting a choice as “right” or “wrong” as we are so prone to do, the Hindu tradition suggests a more thorough evaluation of one’s dharma and karma, or a person’s duty and the consequences (good or bad) that may arise from their ultimate decision. For example, as you mentioned, the women in the stories are acting to fulfill their dharma (desire for motherhood in this case) without disturbing their karma (perhaps why Kunti only uses the boon three times). Bhattacharyya furthered this idea of integrating multiple perspectives in the conclusion of the book, applying such collaboration to the political, clinical, and academic spheres of discussion. I think understanding this idea of combining multiple perspectives is extremely beneficial, particularly when examining complex moral and ethical issues. I hope that as I continue to determine my own beliefs surrounding such issues that I can step back from polarized, exclusive, “all or nothing” positions and incorporate pieces of many different perspectives into my own stance.

  9. Hi Madeleine! I think you did a fantastic job summarizing the readings and adding in your own personal experience and interpretations. It helped me to solidify my opinions, while also provoking some interesting thoughts and questions that I had not thought about before. Specifically, I found your discussion on “rights” versus “duty” incredibly interesting. It really made me reflect on the way we use to word “rights” in the United States, in many circumstances, but also very significantly in the discussion surrounding reproductive rights. How do we necessarily define “rights”? Why should we all have them? Does the concept of rights take into account that we are all dependent on one another in some way? That is where I think the concept of “duty” poses an interesting, slightly contradictory way to frame ethical dilemmas–one that I am still questioning myself in terms of how I feel about it. I think duty is something that many people naturally feel, it is embedded in their psyche that we have a duty to consider others, but is it the right way to frame ethical dilemmas? How is duty constructed? And what are the consequences if one does not act on duties of certain degrees? It is all quite abstract and I am unsure it is totally possible to have a universal understanding of rights versus duty and what each of those are actually understood as. Thank you for your great post Madeleine and I look forward to discussing more in class!

  10. Hi Madeleine, I learned a lot about the role of narrative and language in religious bioethics from your blog post. Before reading the book, I wasn’t familiar with the six characteristics of Hindu thought that Bhattacharyya identifies. Your discussion of the first characteristic, the centrality of society, reminded me of the dynamics surrounding the use of reproductive technology in Orthodox Jewish communities. If Hindu bioethics are applied in the way that you describe, I’d imagine an institutional situation similar to the rabbinical consultation model where the decision whether or not to use reproductive technology is made through group reasoning, rather than individual. Also, you mention how in Hindu narratives, gods work in equal collaboration with humans to reproduce, and how these stories challenge common concerns about “playing god” with new reproductive technologies. I wonder to what extent narratives containing those tropes influence the real-life decisions of Hindu researchers, physicians, and expecting mothers. It would be interesting to see statistics on the rates of use of various reproductive technologies in Hindu-majority countries if they are available.

  11. Hi Madeleine!

    Thanks for your blog post! I also found it pertinent how women had ‘creative control’ but only to a certain degree—where societal expectations drew the line. – I also appreciate the contextualizing between the readings/religions we have been focusing on before—Judaism and Christianity—and the readings for this week. Your point about people of religious individuals trying to stray away from “playing god” was also very interesting to me. In the first documentary we read about genetic testing, I remember being surprised by a quote one of the men who was against abortion and testing stated. He said that people are in a constant wrestle with God for power, and this technology allows us to gain ‘too much ground in the wrestle with God”. The Mahābhārata, representing humans and gods almost as almost equals is definitely interesting and does show in the stories how the ideas on bioethics differ. I really enjoyed your concluding paragraph comparing the readings to how we are so radicalized in the US about reproductive rights and technologies. I agree, the debate is extremely limiting and for a country that is so focused on autonomy and ‘rights’, you would think that there would be more flexibility in having different interpretations or thoughts on the topic of reproductive technologies—not a right or wrong answer. I believe that the issue of politics really made the issue stray away from what it is really about—people’s relationship with reproductive technologies—and made it more about ‘picking a side’ as you said.

  12. Hi Madeleine! Great job with your blog post. I was most intrigued by your comment: “In conversations about bioethics, we often talk about the dangers (or benefits) of ‘playing God.’ in the Mahābhārata, gods collaborate with humans.” This is such a fantastic distinction that you make it, because this collaboration completely reframes our typical discussion of bioethics. I am so glad that you brought this up. I am also interested in how collaboration relates to this discussion around agency that you analyze.

    I really loved how you discussed how these authors explored these issues through stories. It’s fantastic that you were able to approach these analyses from your own creative writing background. I think discussing bioethics in this way is really helpful and can help us step outside of our typical frame of mind.

    You bring up an interesting point with Bhattacharyya’s discussion of “rights” versus “duty.” I wonder what American society would look like if our conversations and laws were shaped around duty instead of rights? How would our laws be different? Our social norm? However, I am not sure how much reframing our conversation around duty would cut down on polarization. For example, debates around abortion may shift to what is the duty of the mother or the government and what obligation do they have to the fetus?

  13. Hi Madeleine! I appreciated your writing techniques and how you were honest and open with how you weren’t very religious. I also appreciate how you went into a more detailed review on Bhattacharyya’s book because it was a book a struggled to comprehend. Lastly, I appreciate how you compared this week’s readings with works that you have read from other classes as well. I also find it interesting how myths invite interpretation because I find many religious fictions to be simple and lack details. This lack of details allows people to apply fictions to their own life because people use the moral lessons they interpret from the story into their life, not the specifics of the story. I also find the difference between “rights” and “duty” to be interesting because when I think of duty, I think of being a part of a society in which my actions can affect others. I believe that this sense of duty encourages people to be more kind to others, which is supported by Hinduism and Buddhism.

  14. Madeleine,
    Your summary of the reading from this week was very well-written and informative. I think you gave a very concise overview of a long text, and it personally helped me to better understand it. I agree that this reading was different from the other ones we have done so far, and I liked your acknowledgment that this one focuses more on duty as opposed to rights. Though I was raised Christian and am not a Hindu, nor do I know much about Hinduism, these readings and your summary made me much more interested. I find it particularly interesting that in the stories of Mahābhārata, people were seen on similar levels to God. As you pointed out, this is quite different from Christianity, and I think it says something interesting to the discussion of reproductive technology.

  15. Hi Madeleine! I too enjoyed Bhattacharya’s book as well! I mentioned in my other post that I am not very familiar with buddhism or hinduism so certain topics I am hearing for the first time such as ahimsa. I liked that you used this quote from the text: “abstract philosophical theoretic cannot always assist those in the process of living.”
    To me, I believe the author Is saying that there are moral principles that are very hard to apply and live in daily life. For example, in Buddhism, you are not allowed to kill bugs. However, this can be very hard to follow in real life. There are times were insects can take over a living space and need to be exterminated in order to live comfortably. Although stark in difference, this analogy is similar to abortion. It could be a nice notion possibly to not believe in abortion; however, in certain situations, abortion can seem like the only viable option. I also like how he encourages the West to look into Hindu bioethics more for inspiration and guidance on how to live. For example, you mentioned in your blog that he denotes a difference in Hindu bioethics focusing more on duty than rights.

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