Author Archives: Joanne Wu

Joanne Wu – Unit 7: Inventing Bioethics

Simpson’s goal in “Impossible Gifts: Bodies, Buddhism and Bioethics in Contemporary Sri Lanka” is to examine the Theravada Buddhist narrative of gamete and embryo donation in Sri Lankan society. He does this by contextualizing Theravada Buddhism in Sri Lanka. Then, Simpson discusses the history of eye and blood donation and what has made each type of donation effective/ineffective in Sri Lankan society. At the very end of his article, he discusses the future of gamete and embryo donation and potential obstacles to their acceptance. 

Swasti Bhattacharyya structures her book by talking about the role of religion in bioethics from the point of view of academics, clinical situations, and public policy. Then she discusses the Mahabharata, a Hindu epic, and the passages within it that are relevant to discussions on reproduction and fertility. Next, she contrasts a variety of Hindu perspectives to those of Roman Catholicism. She pulls out six main themes in the Mahabharata that run throughout Hindu thought. Lastly, she ends the book by applying these six principles to a United States court case on the parenthood of Jaycee Buzzanca. 

Even though he details multiple points of view of organ and tissue donors, Simpson does not mention much about those on the receiving end of the donation or their attitudes about donation. While the discussion on eye and blood donation is useful for applying similar principles to gamete and embryo donation, his argument would have been more effective if he spent more time elaborating on his reasoning behind the conclusions he makes and perhaps going beyond just sperm donation being difficult and egg donation being more likely to be accepted. 

I thought it was interesting when Bhattacharyya was describing bioethicists in the United States as “operating more like philosophers, attempting to rely more on moral principles that they felt could plausibly claim to be universal, rational, and ‘secular’” (Bhattacharyya p 13). This is very reminiscent of the type of argument put forth by the Donum Vitae, as it attempted to ground itself in common human reasoning. By the end of the book, she calls for the inclusion of Hindu perspectives in bioethics in order to make the field more representative of the world it is trying to describe, instead of moving towards secular universal bioethics. She argues that the pluralistic nature of Hinduism could be applied to the field of bioethics to account for the complexities in life that academics sometimes try to minimize. It is unclear whether she means just the idea of pluralism in general that Hinduism is an example of or the specific beliefs and traditions of which Hinduism is a diverse group of. 

Both authors construct their arguments by drawing together the work of previous scholars and researchers. This is unlike some of the other readings in this class that have been more ethnographically oriented. In both authors’ arguments, they draw the reader’s attention to significant texts and narratives in each religion and use those as models with which followers of each religion weigh their bioethical decisions regarding reproductive technology. While this does make their argument much clearer, it does leave some room for wondering about the accuracy of great texts such as the Mahabharata for daily life. Sometimes one’s actual values are not reflected in those works, so Bhattacharyya may be lacking some additional insight by only relying on the Mahabharata and other scholars.

To compare the two readings’ arguments specific for reproductive technology for this week, I will focus on gamete and embryo donation as that is specifically what Simpson focused on, and Bhattacharyya mentions it as well. Simpson claims that Buddhist attitudes are mostly against sperm donation because male infertility is stigmatized against, sperm is very valuable to Ayurvedic medicine, using donor sperm can be seen as adultery, and donating would be “not of pride but of shame (laejjakama)” due to masturbation (Simpson p 854). Egg donation would be more readily accepted because it fits with the King of Sina narrative of giving despite pain. Furthermore, there is less stigma against female infertility and could be seen as adoption. Hindu attitudes are relatively more positive towards sperm donation, perhaps because the Mahabharata resolves some of these issues that Simpson brings up. The practice of niyoga is allowed and addresses the threat of adultery, but women are opposed to it (as Satyavati’s daughter in laws were). Questions of who the child’s father can remain, but moral and social fatherhood is ultimately more important than biological fatherhood. The divine sperm bank presented to Kunti in the Mahabharata also circumvents the need to masturbate in order to donate sperm. Bhattacharyya does not explicitly focus on egg donation, as that might not have been present in the Mahabharata, but she does speak of adoption positively, in the context of Kunti adopting Madri’s two sons to raise as her own. 


Last week during class, Dr. Seeman brought up the idea of each religion having a cost to the benefits of their beliefs. Based on the texts, what might be the cost vs. benefit discussion with regards to Hindu and Buddhist bioethics?

In Simpson’s article, he mentions how Ayurvedic medicine treats sperm as a high value substance that can have devastating effects on a person if they lose too much of it. How would you reconcile this with the divine sperm donation example in the Mahabharata?

Why did Bhattacharyya choose Jaycee Buzzanca as the singular case study she looked at and applied Hindu bioethics to?