2.17 Unit Three: Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics Revisions

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 many people use religion to guide their views about what is morally acceptable. It is not bad for one’s moral compass to be driven by religion; however, it does make it difficult in our society to come to agreements about the morality of reproductive technologies when there are people who are not religious at all, who are members of different religions, and who are members of the same religion but interpret religious texts in different ways.

Donum Vitae intended to use universal philosophical and natural law arguments so that even those who are not Catholic can agree with their claims. However, I still disagree with many of the arguments since some of the evidence used seems to be contradictory. For example, they cite Pope John Paul II (1980) who said that reproductive technologies tempt man “to go beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature” in the introduction. However, they also cite shortly after that God created male and female and gave them “dominion over the earth” (Gn. 1:28). These two statements seem conflicting because neither the quote from Genesis 1 nor anywhere else in Genesis 1 or Genesis 2 presents any limitation on the dominion over the earth.

This is not the only place there appears to be discrepancies between Donum Vitae and the Book of Genesis. In addition, “God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it” (Gn. 1:28). This indicates that we should reproduce, and given that we should reproduce and that we have dominion over the earth, I do not understand the moral opposition to reproductive technologies as a whole, including heterologous artificial fertilization and surrogate motherhood which Donum Vitae states are illicit. However, Donum Vitae and the Catholic Church do not believe that we are obligated to have kids, as we discussed in our previous class in relation to celibacy in the Catholic Church. This does not seem to align with what I have read of the Book of Genesis, but I am not a religious person and have not read the entire Book of Genesis. As a result, I do not completely understand this stance, as well as a few other opinions that the Catholic Church mentioned in this article, which has led me to disagree with a number of their conclusions. I am curious, though, to read more of the Book of Genesis to try to understand their evidence. I am also curious to know how the views of the Catholic Church may have changed since Donum Vitae was published and why these views have or have not changed.

In “The Reemergence of Enlightenment Ideas in the 1994 French Bioethics Debates,” Ball discusses the history and current stance of artificial reproductive technologies (ART) in France as of 2000. 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 was to increase births after decreasing birthrates during the 1970s. In the 1980s, public attention went to controversial cases, which eventually led the French National Assembly to pass 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 who were 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 nature is static. Rosseau argues that these static, “natural laws” may actually be subjective laws “developed from observations of their own society” (Ball 579). As a result, these observations may not truly be universal like some in the Catholic Church believe, as previously mentioned in reference to Donum Vitae. Therefore, in my opinion, we should not be keeping ART from most people who may benefit from it based on observations that are not universal.

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 in France? The importance of the family unit was also mentioned in Donum Vitae; it states on page 158 that “the vitality and stability of society require that children come into the world within a family and that the family be firmly based on marriage” and later adds that a family consists of a husband and wife. Since these two articles have very similar views on the importance of this typical family structure, were these ideas shaped by the same religions ideas emphasized in Genesis 2:24 and Genesis 2:25? 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 Donum Vitae and Ball’s article 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 our interpretation of the Book of Genesis. In Genesis 2:9, 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, including those regarding reproductive technology, 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 reproductive technology 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.

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