Unit Three: Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics

In many countries, there is supposed to be a separation of Church and State. However, many societal norms, bioethical views, and, as a result, laws today are still intertwined with religion. It is difficult to separate the two since religion is used to guide people about what is morally acceptable.

Donum Vitae is a clear example of using religion to dictate what is morally acceptable. Shannon and Cahill have extreme views about what is moral and immoral. For example, children must be “the fruit of marriage,” so heterologous artificial fertilization and surrogate motherhood are not allowed because it goes against the unity of marriage (Shannon and Cahill 157). Homologous in vitro fertilization (IVF) is wrong because it separates procreation and the conjugal act. Homologous artificial insemination does not replace the conjugal act and can only be used to facilitate “the act [to attain] its natural purpose” (Shannon and Cahill 166). For those who are sterile and cannot use artificial fertilization, they recommend adoption or assisting other families and children.

Shannon and Cahill did present their arguments in a logical manner, and I understand their logic given their beliefs. However, I honestly disagree with most of this article because I do not agree with their beliefs. First, I do not agree that children must be a result of marriage or that procreation and the conjugal act must be connected. Additionally, I do not like some of their wording. For example, they discussed that researchers should work to find causes of sterility so that we can prevent it. I agree with this; however, I do not like that they then said that it will help sterile couples so that they can procreate “for their own personal dignity” (Shannon and Cahill 169). I do not think that one’s dignity should be equated to whether or not someone can or wants to have kids. However, if we need to have children for our own personal dignity, why would we not support using artificial fertilization to help people? If we are supposed to reproduce and we were given the knowledge and ability to create artificial reproductive technologies (ART) to help people reproduce, why should we not use it?

Unlike Donum Vitae, the role of religion is not as clear in regards to the laws and bioethical views towards ART in France, which Ball discusses in “The Reemergence of Enlightenment Ideas in the 1994 French Bioethics Debates.” Overall, I thought the timeline of the legality and morality of ART in France was intriguing because they kept shifting their stance. In most of the 19th and 20th centuries, ART was seen as “repugnant to natural law” (Ball 548). It was banned in hospitals until the first government-sponsored sperm bank was established in 1973. Then in 1978, ART became completely covered by the national health insurance system with an infertility diagnosis, whereas other medical procedures are normally reimbursed up to 80%. However, the motives behind this were to increase births after decreasing birthrates during the 1970s. However, in the 1980s public attention went to controversial cases, such as if a woman was allowed to use her deceased husband’s sperm to have a child. Finally, the French National Assembly passed laws in 1994 that only sterile, heterosexual couples of procreative age can use artificial insemination and IVF procedures.

This decision had clear political motives: to protect the traditional family structure. They saw this imminent disruption of the typical family structure via the use of ART as bad for two reasons. First, they viewed a nation as a combination of several families, so each individual family was the foundation of their society. As a result, they wanted to maintain the traditional family structure to keep a strong foundation of individual families to keep the nation stable. Second, they thought providing ART to those who were not heterosexual or not of reproductive age was unnatural because they cannot “naturally” have children. Ball presents Rosseau’s argument to counter this idea of what is natural. Using ART for those who are not heterosexual or of reproductive age is only unnatural if the concept of natural is static instead of dynamic. Rosseau argues that these static, “natural laws” may actually be subjective laws “developed from observations of their own society” (Ball 579). Therefore, we should not be keeping ART from most people who may benefit from it. This idea of what is natural being dynamic also may cause problems in Shannon and Cahill’s arguments of when ART should be used.

A question I had when reading the Ball article was how much of an influence did religion have in the formation of the traditional family structure? Although the Church and State separated in France before 1994, I would expect religion still influenced societal norms, like it does today, which can then influence the laws put in place. Was France still a relatively Catholic country during this time or did this idea of the traditional family structure persist even though France was no longer very religious? Or is the traditional family structure independent of religion altogether? Additionally, what were the stances in other countries about ART during this time?

One question I had throughout both of these readings is why do we tend to view things as static and resist change, especially regarding bioethical issues? It seems reasonable to me that our understanding of what is natural and moral would evolve as our understanding of the world develops over time. I think it may come back to the role of religion. In Genesis 2, God made the tree of life that has knowledge of good and evil. But does this mean that things are either good or evil or is it a spectrum of good to evil? If we view good and evil as two distinct categories, that could contribute to viewing things in a more static mindset. However, I think it is more realistic that good and evil is a spectrum and that many of these bioethical issues fall somewhere in between good and evil. If we consider it a spectrum, then it may be easier to adjust our view on an issue as we learn more about it and learn more about the world in general. This view that good and evil is more of a spectrum instead of a dichotomy could help remind us that what is natural is dynamic, not static.

Furthermore, I think these discussions about bioethical issues are important to have, especially in today’s society which is so polarized. However, I find it difficult when there are things that I simply do not agree with, such as the fact that a child needs to be born via “natural” measures to married man and woman. Is there a way for Shannon, Cahill and me to come to an agreement on what circumstances reproductive technology is moral even though we disagree that a child is the fruit of marriage?

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