Unit Five – Cultures of Testing – Sai Greeshma Magam

This week’s readings differ from the topics we have covered thus far in class. While we’ve discussed the aspects of artificial reproductive technologies (ARTs) as they affect people of different faiths, this week’s readings branch off and detail a mostly female approach to options considered during an ongoing pregnancy. 

Testing Women, Testing the Fetus is a full-length ethnography by Dr. Rayna Rapp. Her ethnography covered a spectrum of topics relating to the healthcare system, discussing the history of genetic testing, the current prenatal testing (amniocentesis), healthcare reform in the United States, and ethnic disparities in the healthcare industry. Her methodology involved qualitative interviews of patients receiving prenatal testing and genetic counselors, which provided her with a comprehensive evaluation of prenatal testing from both perspectives. Her background also provides a unique perspective to this ethnography, as she had gone through the procedure of prenatal testing, received a positive diagnosis of Down Syndrome for her fetus, and decided to terminate her pregnancy (pg. 3).

Throughout the discussion of ethnic differences in the female perspective to prenatal testing and pregnancy, Dr. Rapp talks about the cultural ideological differences that arose with genetic testing. One part of the ethnography that stood out to me was the disparity in understanding familial history. As Dr. Rapp points out, some research participants were adamant that the environment surrounding them was more likely to influence their child, as opposed to the family history of the parents (pg. 163). Similarly, I was intrigued to learn that parents who already had children found themselves more confident that their body would produce healthy babies, especially when compared to first-time parents of a higher socioeconomic status (pg. 69). This disparity was evident through prenatal testing, as the statistics showing a Down Syndrome occurrence of 3 in 1000 births were perceived differently in those two populations of parents. Another ethnic difference she discusses surrounds populations in which a male child is preferred to a female child, resulting in fetal femicide, a practice more common in Asian populations (pg. 94).

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The other reading from this week was an article from Medicine Anthropology Theory, titled “Blessing Unintended Pregnancy,” written by Dr. Seeman and his colleagues. This article displayed results from their ethnographic research conducted at Naomi’s House, a homeless women’s shelter with a predominantly African American population. Many of the research subjects were women who decided to raise their children independently, with the exception of one woman who was living with her partner (pg. 39). Like the title suggests, this article examines the beliefs of women who were faced with an unplanned pregnancy, yet many of whom still deemed the pregnancy as a blessing. Many of the women interviewed indicated that their child was a strong reason to pursue a “better life,” and in cases of teenage pregnancies, continue their education or leave destructive familial situations.

In addition to questions regarding their pregnancy, these women were also approached with questions about their faith and spirituality. Although the shelter itself was non-denominational, there is a religious history to the center, even though a majority of its residents identified as “spiritual but not religious” (pg.41). A majority of the interview participants responded that their pregnancy was intended by “an agency that trumps human planning,” even if it was not intended by themselves (pg. 42).

While Dr. Rapp’s ethnography details the genetics of prenatal testing and the decisions parents have to make to choose the procedure, Dr. Seeman’s research discusses the choices left in the hands of (mostly) single, pregnant women. Despite the differences in ethnographies, both discuss the need to understand each other’s perspective of reproduction.

Discussion Questions

Dr. Rapp describes a divide/miscommunication between the patient and healthcare provider – do you believe this is accurate? Do you think this is limited to prenatal testing or do you think this is prevalent in other areas of the healthcare field?

How would you distinguish the differences between being religious and being spiritual and how do you think this affects women during pregnancy?

Dr. Rapp examines the implications of prenatal testing toeing the line between reproductive rights and disability rights. Based on what we’ve read this week, what are your opinions of this debate?

In Testing Women, Testing the Fetus, Dr. Rapp discusses the limitations to prenatal testing. She talks about how certain members may have access to the testing, but not have access to the subsequent procedures, such as selective termination – if this is the case, do you believe prenatal testing is still important?

Unit Five: Cultures of Testing (Petar Zotovic)

Both Testing Women, Testing the Fetus and “Blessing Unplanned Pregnancy: Religion and the Discourse of Women’s Agency in Public Health” shed light on the social and moral view regarding mothers and their babies. Even though this weeks stance may be slightly different from previous weeks discussions regarding Assisted Reproductive Technologies, the decision about whether to continue with a pregnancy still plays a critical role in understanding the medical ethics, laws, and societal viewpoints that exist in modern-day.

Rayna Rapp wrote Testing Women, Testing the Fetus following her decision to have an abortion once prenatal diagnosis (PND) confirmed her fetus had Down Syndrome. Her decision to write the book led her to conduct fifteen years of extensive research on PND and analyze interactions between doctors and patients (Rapp 5). In her book, she mentions that miscommunication between patient and doctor are not just caused by differences in language, but also because of differences in philosophy. The branch of philosophy she mentions includes beliefs about what makes up a supportive parent and beliefs about the moral standing of a fetus. Another argument Rapp makes is that full cooperation between patients and physicians can never be accomplished because of two main reasons: lack of objectivity on the side of the physician and the complexity of a patients belief structure. She continues to mention that common social indicators such as race and gender are not enough to fuel this mutual cooperation (Rapp 79). With regards to PND, the above issues exercise a huge burden on the pregnant mother; if PND confirms Down Syndrome or some other disease, the mother faces a decision regarding her future if she were to continue with the pregnancy.  This entails more commitment to the child, which involves less occupational opportunities and more emphasis regarding health standards of the child (Rapp 165).

Rayna Rapp’s book ties in well with the first week’s discussion regarding if abortions should be allowed in circumstances affecting the health of the mother/fetus. Numerous women take this question into account when finding out that their fetus has Down Syndrome or some other disease. Arguments over whether abortion should be allowed in this matter still exists, but the book by Rapp sheds light on reasons why abortions do take place in these circumstances; they include the belief systems of a patient and the risk measures in play (Rapp 53).

“Blessing Unplanned Pregnancy: Religion and the Discourse of Women’s Agency in Public Health” is an article which discusses “unintended blessings” and contraception in Naomi’s house. Naomi’s house is a shelter located in the southeastern portion of the United States and specializes in providing clients with childcare and educational resources to make them more economically and emotionally independent (31). The “unintended blessings” in this article refers to women becoming pregnant without intentions to do so. Even though numerous women at Naomi’s house agreed the “unintended blessings” came as a shock/scare at first thought, they admitted that it provided them with the opportunity to begin a fresh start in life (34). A example can be seen through the following quote: “Naomi’s house residents frequently described pregnancy or motherhood as effectively beyond their control…that motherhood provided the context for them to start over, receive blessings, or triumph over adversity” (35). Eva, one of the residents, decided to go back and finish high school, not allowing two unplanned pregnancies deter her from receiving a diploma. With regards to contraception, the issues of poverty and access to contraceptives play an important role. An example is seen when a resident named Regina became pregnant when her local pharmacy stopped carrying the birth control pills she used (39-40).

“Blessing Unplanned Pregnancy: Religion and the Discourse of Women’s Agency in Public Health” is an article which has a focus on a mother’s outlook on an unplanned pregnancy. The article reminded me of week three’s class discussion where it was brought up that the needs of pregnant  mothers and hospital patients are sometimes not discovered because the question of what issues surround the individual at hand are never asked. While reading, I felt that the researchers that went to Naomi’s house kept this question in mind and it helped them better understand the residents. Examples include asking Regina why she stopped using contraceptive methods and what determined patients such as Eva and Demetria to go back to school to receive a diploma (35,40).

Overall, both readings provided a detailed analysis of the situations pregnant mothers face. The complex intertwine of differing ideologies and moral obligations still continue to cause conflicting feelings among individuals, but they play an important role in revealing the beliefs of people, which ultimately help progress the discussion of medical ethics in society.

Questions to Consider:

What connection do you see between the two readings?

Why do you think there exists a lack of connection between physicians and patients?

What steps can be taken to improve physician-patient interaction?

How do you interpret the word “blessing” when it refers to unplanned pregnancies?

Unit Five: Cultures of Testing (Hannah Gold)

In class thus far we have discussed both kinship and views on Assisted Reproductive Technologies through the lens of different religions. These two topics go hand in hand because religious authorities always cite kinship cosmology when defining their position on ART. This week our focus is on women: we examine a woman’s approach to the process and the state of being pregnant and how this informs their experience in an increasingly complex medical system. We dive into a specific type of technology—prenatal testing—to highlight the differences that women have in their opinions and use of ART. It becomes clear that a whole slew of factors, from social to economic to religious to moral, determine these different approaches. As we will see, discourse in kinship cosmology and religious paradigm is undoubtedly woven into these conversations.

Rayna Rapp’s book, Testing Women, Testing the Fetus is an ethnography about the culture and practice of prenatal testing in the United States. Her methodology was strikingly similar to that of Susan Kahn in her book Reproducing Jews in that both interview all of the involved parties to gain a three hundred sixty-degree understanding of a certain practice. Not only did she interview women receiving prenatal testing, but she also interviewed genetic counselors, diagnosticians, and geneticists. She even divided that first category into women at all stages of testing: those who were deciding whether or not to have the test, those who refused it, those who tested and received a positive diagnosis, and those who already have disabled children whose births the test could have prevented. Rapp places the spotlight on women, as they are the “consumers” (34) of reproductive technologies and their stories deserve to be considered in the conversation about the ethics of, support for, and education on prenatal testing.

We also read an article from the Medicine Anthropology Theory journal titled Blessing Unintended Pregnancy written by Dr. Seeman, Iman Roushdy-Hammady and others. The authors conducted an ethnographic study on pregnancy in an underserved population in southeastern United States. The study participants were African American residents at Naomi’s House, a homeless shelter for struggling families. The researchers collected information about the participants’ religious views, their education and decisions regarding their pregnancies and reproductive health, and their spiritual upbringing. In this article the authors break down the notions of intention in pregnancy. They argue that dichotomizing intention as “intended” and “unintended” fails to recognize the complexity of decisions to and to not get pregnant. They find that often times women do not view getting pregnant as an individual decision, but as a life event destined by God.

Two major themes emerge from this week’s readings: agency and access. I will first discuss access. Dr. Seeman et al gave insight into a specific population: homeless African American women. In contrast, Rapp’s study covers a diverse demographic in socioeconomic class and ethnicity. When comparing these readings I couldn’t help but wonder how any of Rapp’s findings could possibly relate to the population from the Naomi’s House study. These women are most concerned with how to support their children, how to feed and house their families, how to make sense of a pregnancy that was perhaps forced upon them. Seeman et al cite an “inability to control central features of their reproductive experience” (38) as one of the reasons for pregnancies and poor reproductive planning in women at Naomi’s House. They are not the demographic seeking prenatal testing; this is likely not even a consideration for them. If testing isn’t a prominent concern in the first place, a discussion about access is irrelevant here.

However, if we assume prenatal testing is a consideration for all women, then we can consider access. Rapp states that Medicaid covers prenatal care, including prenatal testing. (170) Despite this fact, Rapp writes, “it is an axiom of genetic counseling that middle class patients (disproportionately white) usually accept the test while pooper women (disproportionately from ethnic-racial minorities) are more likely to refuse it.” (168) She says that the reason for this is because of the “environment in which [women] receive health care,” (168) meaning that the level of comfort an individual has in a certain medical environment is related to how likely they are to adhere to a doctor’s recommendations of prenatal testing. While this may be a limiting factor, what about everything that happens after the amnio? Let’s say all pregnant women are both scientifically literate and able to undergo prenatal testing; what about all of the resources required if the test is positive? Is abortion even a financial option? What about the resources needed to raise a child with disabilities? Is that a financial option? The majority of women from Seeman’s study, presumably, would not choose to abort for religious reasons. Whitney wouldn’t even get her tubes tied because “it wasn’t based in the Bible.” (34) So even if there is access to the consideration of the test and access to the test itself, is there access to dealing with its outcomes?

While these two readings address very real concerns in very different populations, there is one distinct commonality. Both conversations require a discussion of agency. Seeman et al write, “We believe that we are better able to make sense of our informants’ reproductive experiences when we turn our attention to what anthropologists have called ‘agentive capacities’ (Coole 2005).” (31) They go on to argue that often times agency is not an individual’s luxury. Many of the women in their study say that their pregnancy was a “life-affirming agency beyond their control” (31) and place the reasoning behind the even in a spiritual realm. This clearly muddles the line between “intended” and “unintended” because if one considers God’s agency in an individual becoming pregnant then of course all pregnancies are intended.

An interesting comparison can be drawn here between women not having agency in when they get pregnant and women not having agency in what types of reproductive technologies become available to them. Rapp writes, “as historian Ruth Cowan points out, it is often hard to spot the agency of women in the development of a technology for which they become consumers” (34). We can perhaps compare the introduction of new technologies as a kind of deterministic, God-like power to not only have kids, but also to have genetically perfect ones. Rapp writes, “across divides of class privilege, racial-ethnic or national background, and religious affiliation, many individuals hold mothers responsible for fetal quality and health.” (120)

  • Does the presence of new technologies to bring perfect children into the world imply responsibility to use them?
  • Can we draw a comparison between the obligation from God to take a baby to term (as he intended) and the obligation to test a fetus for imperfection, and terminate it if imperfections are found?

Both of our readings place a large emphasis on gaining an understanding of the individual—in this case the woman—before making a decision about intention in pregnancy and fetal testing. My lingering questions surround the topic of how best to fit anthropological findings into both quantitative Public Health research methods and in every day medical practice. Seeman et al write, “our engagement with women at Naomi’s House allows us to see that between the dichotomy of agency and constraint there lie other possibilities that have only rarely been described in public health literature.” (44-45) Rapp writes, “Despite a commendable commitment to abstract notions of distributive justice, the definition of “expert” is weighted toward representatives of powerful academic and humanist fields like philosophy, jurisprudence, and medicine.” (46) There seems to be a theme in these readings and in the class as a whole—a need for a more holistic approach to medicine.

  • How do you quantify intentionality?
  • Where does a discussion of “divine prerogative” (34) fit into a secular discussion about individual agency, particularly in a courtroom?
  • Should everyday consumers be the ones deciding what technologies should and shouldn’t become publicly available, like Rayna Rapp is suggesting?

Unit Four: Kinship and Religious Law (Hannah Gold)

Earlier this week my roommate came home to me laying in bed curled up with Susan Kahn’s Reproducing Jews. She happened to be coming from a visit with Eliana, the wife of a young Atlanta Rabbi. Interestingly enough, that day Eliana told my roommate about her visit to her  “birth control Rabbi” to discuss the possibility of getting an IUD. I asked my roommate what a birth control Rabbi was (picturing in my head my 10th-grade Sex Ed teacher wearing a kippah) she told me it was a Rabbi who specialized in what Jewish halakha says about contraception. She said that Eliana goes to a different Rabbi depending on what kinds of questions need answering in her life. This reminded me of how I go to a different store depending on what kinds of grocery items I need in my apartment: I’ll go to Whole Foods if I am looking to treat myself to overpriced fruits, Trader Joe’s for wine and avocado hummus, CVS if I need a candy bar and some laundry detergent, and Kroger for pretty much everything else.

This anecdote demonstrates what I interpret as the shopping cart-like essence of Judaism and Jewish Law. This view is highlighted in our readings this week about a Jewish take on Assisted Reproductive Technologies (ART).

Susan Martha Kahn’s book, Reproducing Jews, is an ethnography of Israeli Jews that seeks to identify Jewish beliefs about reproductive technologies. She looks at three populations: unmarried women who underwent IVF or were looking to, medical professionals in a fertility clinic, and finally rabbis and other Orthodox Jews who are experts in the field of ART.

Michael Broyde’s chapter examines how Judaism views reproductive cloning from a religious, biological, and legal standpoint. Broyde argues that cloning is consistent with halakhic teachings, however cautions his audience to be careful not to be too permissive especially in the face of uncertainty so as to “[minimize] the potential of Jewish Law violations.” (315) The utilitarian argument of “do no harm” that Ayman talked about in his post last week applies here.

Finally, our very own Don Seeman’s chapter from Kin, Gene, Community calls for a need to consider humanness and culture—rather than relying on rote religious-technical arguments—when doing a comparative analysis of a religious take on ethical issues such as ART. He writes, “good literature and good ethnography each make us more aware of the moral ambiguities and subtle leitmotifs as well as grand cultural narratives and power structures in which reproductive choices are made.” (357)

There is a distinct theme in these readings that contextualize this week’s topic of Religious Law. Last week we saw that the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith and the French National Bioethics Committee cite “natural law” as their source of authority on ART. However, all three of our authors this week argue that Jewish law is divorced from, and perhaps wholly ignores, nature. In an argument against a previous comparison of Jewish and Euro-American concepts of kinship Kahn writes, “If we understand Strathern’s concept of ‘nature’ to be synonymous with a set of beliefs that privilege genetic relatedness…then we must recognize significant differences between Euro-American and Jewish beliefs about kinship.” (165) Broyde’s chapter highlights how differently Jewish Law can be interpreted in order to get certain results, which is inconsistent with an absolute, nature-driven argument. For example, he discusses IVF and how some rabbis argue that the egg donor is the true mother, some argue that the gestational mother is the true mother, and some even argue both. Seeman cites the Catholic Church’s governance via natural law as one of the reasons Jews and Christians diverge so much on this issue of ART. He writes, “a lack of overriding concern with ‘nature’ or natural law in rabbinic jurisprudence can make halachah eminently more flexible than some other forms of ethical deliberation when it comes to new reproductive technologies.” (359)

Seeman’s argument about flexibility brings us back to the shopping cart idea from the beginning of my post. The fact that Eliana, or anyone for that matter, can pick and choose her source of religious authority depending on the issue at hand seems to be a very common occurrence in Judaism. In my personal experience, I feel almost encouraged to modify Judaism to fit my lifestyle, even if that means feeling Jewish just because I like to eat challah on Fridays. In the debates about ART, it seems as though you can find a way to sculpt halakhic teachings to fit any argument. Kahn writes, “all this cutting and pasting of conceptual kinship categories is somewhat of a game” (169) when discussing how Israelis will accept paternity of Israeli Jewish sperm donors but deny it if the donor is a non-Jew.

Dr. Seeman asked us in his VoiceThread this week to consider how Judaism and Catholicism hold respectively the most permissive and the most restrictive opinions on ART. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that halakha is derived from the Talmud, the “oral torah,” which is not only based on written scripture but also on commentaries and commentaries of commentaries from a million rabbis who all have different views on every issue. Judaism 101 describes the Talmud as “some else’s class notes from a college lecture you never attended.”[1] Perhaps this structure allows for Judaism to most efficiently evolve with the times, to have greater authority technology-related issues that were inconceivable to our old friend Moses. Perhaps, as Dr. Seeman argues, it is a divorce from nature law that allows for so much plasticity in Judaism.

I can’t help but wonder, however, how big of a role the history of the Jewish people plays here. In addition to discussing what the Bible says about barren women being “an archetype of suffering,” (3) Kahn provides a historical context to Israeli pronatalism. She cites Arab birthrates, a desire to increase numbers in the Israeli Defense Forces, and replacement of Jews lost in the Holocaust as potential factors motivating such a permissive attitude about ART. On the contrary, Dr. Seeman argues the “sociological factors” such as “high Arab birth rates or the much vaunted ‘pro-natalism’ of post Holocaust Jews” (350) are insufficient in explaining Israeli Jews’ policies on ART. However, these arguments can go back even further in history. Not only have Jews never been the majority in any country they’ve ever inhabited, but they have also been the recipient of persecution and oppression time and time again.[2] I am not arguing that other religious and ethnic minorities have not also been subject to extensive persecution or that the Jews had it the worst out of anyone. I am arguing that this history undeniably weaves its way into Israeli Jewish permissiveness on the subject of technologies that allow for the production of more Jews. More generally, a shopping-cart attitude toward a religious tradition allows for pretty much anyone to adopt a “Jewish identity” in some form or another. It allows me, the worst Jew of them all, to call myself a Jew and have Jewish babies even in the absence of any substantive practice. Perhaps permissiveness in Jewish Law is equally a product of scripture, culture, and history.


Some Q’s to consider:

Does halakhic permissiveness detract from how much authority the religion itself holds?

Does Judaism really diverge from natural law, or does it simply have its own concept of natural law?

When we read interpretations, how do we know who to listen to?

When it comes to the Bible, certain interpretations can only apply to the state of affairs in a specific period in time. Do we need to keep updating in order to come to an interpretation that applies to humans of the most modern times?

Is it more effective for a religious tradition to be more permissive or more restrictive?


[1] http://www.jewfaq.org/torah.html

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Persecution_of_Jews

Unit 4 Kinship and Religious Law (Rachel Spector)

The advent of technologies that assist reproduction has prompted discussion among communities over our moral obligations and the ethical implications of such innovations. This week’s readings all reflect on the Jewish religion’s relative openness to reproductive technologies. Many anthropologists and researchers of other disciplines try to understand what makes Israel so accepting of these advances. They strive to reveal on what basis legal decisions are made and how they are grounded in the social climate and in interpretations of religious text.

Ethnography, Exegesis, and Jewish Ethical Reflection: The New Reproductive Technologies In Israel” explores the strategies by which scholars should interpret discussion on bioethics in Israel. Don Seeman cautions against minimizing this discourse to any one factor that contributed to general acceptance of reproductive technology. He asserts that it cannot be attributed as a pronatal response to the Holocaust, nor can it be simplified to conflict between religious and secular ideas. He references Kathrin Braun (2005) to draw a contrast between “managerial discourse” and “republican” discourse. “Managerial discourse” involves analysis by medical and ethical experts, including rabbinic authorities, while “republican” discourse involves the ideas of citizens of the community. Both strategies must be employed to fully understand and delve into the consequences of assisted reproductive technology. Textual analysis and ethnography can enlighten discussion on this topic and inform legal decisions.

One way Seeman examines Jewish ideas on assisted reproductive technologies is through an analysis of their interpretation of biblical texts. He emphasizes that while the technology is new, the problems it poses have been addressed long ago. I was skeptical of this viewpoint at first because the technology seems like nothing the world has encountered before. As Seeman cautions against, I believed “that this technology stands ready to unhinge traditional families and kinship structures.” But his examples provide important insights concerning issues that continue to prompt debate today. An analysis of interpretations of these texts also highlights where differences between Jewish and other religious ideas on reproduction originate. It is important to take these resources into consideration in modern discourse because they have real implications for society. Seeman discusses the tensions that arose due to surrogacy when Sarah recruits her servant, Hagar, to bear her husband’s sons. She says, “Behold now, the Lord has restrained me from bearing; go in, I pray three, unto my handmaid; it may be that I shall be built up through her” (cf. Gen. 30). Then, Sarah has son of her own and competition ensures between them. Surrogacy is evidently not a new innovation and the problems it posed then continue to hold relevance today. Many protestant writers interpreted this story as logical evidence for the conclusion that surrogacy is problematic, while Jews and Muslims focused on the implications of surrogacy for inheritance rather than rejecting it entirely. These interpretations contribute to different perspectives on assisted reproductive technology. They add to our discussion last week in class concerning the Catholic Church’s focus on the genesis when formulating opinions on the technology and the Jewish focus on the Leviticus. Relying on the same text does not result in united ideas on reproductive technology.

  • Do you think the debates taking place today are novel or similar to issues encountered in the past?
  • Why are these texts interpreted differently by members of different religious traditions? How are interpretations rooted in culture and how do these cultural traditions inform policy?

One important argument Seeman makes is that Catholicism emphasizes “natural law” in their ideas about assisted reproductive technology, whereas Judaism focuses on kinship relations. This can be found in differing interpretations of biblical text, but it can also be found in the ideas of rabbinic authorities and Jewish culture. “Marriage, Sex, and Family in Judaism” discusses how to place a cloned child within the kinship relations inherent to Jewish society. The article calls into question our definitions of different social roles in society. Michael J. Broyde investigates if Jewish religion would view the act as permissible (mutar), prohibited (asur) or a good deed (mitzvah). He claims that the response to this question varies based on context. Men are obligated by religious doctrine to father at least one daughter and one son, while women are informally pressured to have children. Cloning is a mitzvah if the donor is a man, whereas it is just permissible for a female donor. In his discussion on kinship relations, Broyde proposes three possible theories of a relationship between the cloner and the clonee:

  1. Mother and child or father and child
  2. Siblings
  3. No relationship between the cloner and clonee

Most religious authorities see the woman who carried a baby to term in her womb as the mother regardless of the circumstances. This suggests that the cloner would have no relationship with the clonee if it was born from a different woman. But what’s interesting about Judaism is the wealth of different opinions on many issues. There is no one centralized authority who claims to speak for the entire Jewish religion. For example, Rabbi J. David Bleich claims that both women are the mothers. The idea of two mothers has important consequences for the child’s life. For example, if the child is asked who his/her mother is, what will he/she say? With regard to siblings, Broyde argues that the cloner and the clonee could not be seen that way because Jewish law defines siblings as sharing a father and/or a mother. Despite their identical genetic identity (or similar if the gene donor is not the same as the ovum donor), their relationship is not the same of identical twins because they do not share a common parent. This article reveals that genetic relationships may not coincide with social relationships and this has important consequences for how the child is placed in the vast web of social ties in society. It is an interesting debate that if the donor is a man, he may be seen as the father because there are no other candidates for the role. But if the donor is a woman, she has to contend with another woman for the role of mother.

  • What is your definition of a mother? Father? Siblings?
  • What do you think the relation should be between the cloner and clonee and why?

Reproducing: A Cultural Account Of Assisted Conception In Israel provides an ethnography depicting the experiences of unmarried women as they use artificial insemination to have children. It is a much needed emphasis on how all these debates have real consequences for the individuals in society who utilize these resources. Susan Martha Kahn depicted artificial insemination as 8 stages by which women go for appointments, speak with social workers and psychologists, await the medical professional’s decision on sperm, and deal with failures of the insemination among other concerns. Seeman proclaims the necessity of ethnography as a method for discussing ethics on assisted reproductive technology. As I mentioned about the child with two mothers, circumstances of origin can affect the child’s life. For example, Kahn mentions going for a walk with a woman and her daughter; her daughter encountered two elderly women who asked where her father was (46, Kahn). She responded with confusion because she did not know she was supposed to have a father. As this child grows up, she will have to come to terms with her origins and learn how to respond to other’s inquiries. The ethnography also reveals a growing number of individuals who utilize artificial insemination as a means of reproduction without a man. It introduces a new origin of children outside of marriage and challenges individuals to make sense of what marriage is if it is not the only means of reproduction. These kinds of revelations could not be revealed by textual analysis or reference to rabbinic authorities. Thus, it is important to carry out ethnographic studies to illuminate different aspects of the day to day life of these individuals. These readings have revealed the various aspects of Jewish culture, law, biblical texts, and other resources have informed opinion on assisted reproductive technology. It is a complex issue that demands a careful analysis of a wide variety of sources.

Unit 3: Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics (Kristin Newman)

“Science without conscience is but the ruin of the soul.” –François Rabelais

Advancements in artificial reproduction have called on society not only to devise answers for its purpose, but more importantly to develop a keener awareness of its limitations. The spread of IVF in the Middle East has challenged the assumptions of religious fundamentalism by using technology in cooperation with religion instead of undermining it. In contrast, the “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation (Donum Vitae, “Gift of Life”), issued by the Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith in 1987 from the Roman Catholic Church, seeks to concretely address this issue:

“The gift of life which God the Creator and Father has entrusted to man calls him to appreciate the inestimable value of what he has been given and to take responsibility for it […] these techniques can enable man to ‘take in hand his own destiny,’ but they also expose him ‘to the temptation to go beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature’” (141).

Dating back to the fifteenth century B.C., the Book of Genesis tells the grand narrative of the Old Testament, beginning with the creation of the world—and notably of human beings created in the image of God. Man and woman are creatures made with a unique capacity to mirror and reflect the character of God, and are thus mandated by Him to rule over all other living creatures as benevolent kings. Adam and Eve stood in perfect moral relationship with their Creator and possessed a duty of obedience to Him; however, God voluntarily entered into a covenant with His creatures and added a promise of blessing to His law for perfect and total obedience to His rule. An important part of this covenant is the kinship provided through marriage. In Genesis 2:23, man’s first poem highlights his wife’s companionship with him:

“This at last is bone of my bones

and flesh of my flesh

she shall be called Woman,

because she was taken out of Man.”

Marriage is portrayed as the consummation of God’s covenant with humankind, and “one flesh” in verse 24 denotes that it is intended to be monogamous.  Furthermore, the “properly” constituted relationship between man and woman results in… “one flesh”” (Shivanandan 135). This sacred bond is the unity in which “the blessing of fecundity… will be realized. It is not merely the manipulation and combining of genetic materials that effects the blessing, but it is the fruit of the one-flesh reality….” (136). This man-and-woman relationship not only unifies two sexes in a heterosexual, monogamous manner that seems to be ordained from the beginning of creation, but its sanctity also allows the humanity and familial unity to be properly passed on to the next generation. There is a strong suggestion that the importance of this kind of relationship, one free from homosexuality or reproductive technologies, goes beyond fulfilling societal expectations—it is the only way to properly have children.

Questions to consider:

  • What is the difference between a covenant and a contract? Consequences of ending them?
  • How does the significance of “one flesh” portrayed in Genesis play into the issue of fidelity in surrogacy?
  • Does this point of view change your understanding of kinship? Does it make McKinnon’s view of kinship as a cultural construct seem more compelling? Why or why not?

The Congregation of the Doctrine of Faith states that moral law regarding science and technology must “be at the service of the human person, of his inalienable rights and his true and integral good according to the design and will of God” (143). The natural moral law, according to the Roman Catholic Church, is not merely a set of norms dictated by biology; rather, it is defined by the Creator’s intended purpose for our bodies (144). For this reason, the Catholic Church opposes anything that has the potential to destroy an innocent human life on the belief that it is not ours to destroy, which therefore precludes abortion.

“’What do to one of the least of my brethren, you do unto me’” (Mt. 25:40, 174).

In order to make a moral judgement on artificial procreation, one must first consider the “life of the human being called into existence and the special nature of the transmission of human life in marriage” (145). This means the Catholic Church is not only concerned about the way in which the child is conceived, but the environment he or she will be raised in.

As long as therapeutic procedures seek to promote the life of the human embryo, they are considered permissible; however, the live embryo is not to be exploited through experimentation, as such the corpses of human embryos and fetuses must also be treated with respect and remain untouched (153). The argument the Catholic Church formulates against procedures of manipulating embryos for human reproduction and heterologous artificial fertilization stems from “the fidelity of the spouses in the unity of marriage” and their “reciprocal respect of their right to become a father and a mother only through each other” (158). For these reasons, the Church also opposes surrogacy as a substitute for the conjugal act, even though sterility is considered to be a difficult trial but more so an invitation to service through assistance to other families or adoption as an affinal form of kinship.

Questions to consider:

  • Do you agree with the Catholic Church’s normative view of family in our society today? Why or why not?
  • Under what conditions do you find the use reproductive technologies acceptable? Do you believe children have a fundamental right to know who their parents are?

The passage of three major bioethics laws in France have provided a lens through which the rest of the world can view the evolution of “French ideas concerning the family and nature” stemming from the Enlightenment period in 1789 (“Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen,” 546). In 1994, The French National Assembly restricted access to ART to sterile, heterosexual couples of procreative age who could prove they have been together for at least two years (555). The implications of these laws were intended to “champion the normative model of the family” by disallowing homosexual couples, virgins, and post-menopausal women to have children and thereby promoting the traditional bi-parental, heterosexual family structure and the “normal genealogical development of family” (548, 568). Legislators also imposed these restrictions in part because “they did not want the children to be received into an unstable environment that might be detrimental for their future psychological well-being” (568).

While ART through artificial insemination in France was first seen as “repugnant to natural law” according to the church and government in 1880, by late twentieth century the first government-sponsored sperm banks started appearing (549). Because access to healthcare is a constitutional right in France, an infertility diagnosis and treatment through ART is completely covered (550). Opponents to ART such as Christine Boutin claimed it was “dehumanizing” –the more artificial reproduction becomes, the more we abandon the natural process of procreation (557). However, these ideas remain unpopular because ART accounts for less than 1% of births in France as of 1991. But still, the question posed by French sociologists of whether we are even capable of defining the “contemporary family” impacts how fully accepted the ideas of Rousseau’s fundamental belief of the “interrelationship between the well-being of family and society” (559). If children are to be the beneficiaries of knowledge, then they shouldn’t they take precedence in matters relating to family? However, it should also be noted that Rousseau believed nature was an evolving, “dynamic force” rather than a static force, therefore providing evidence that it should not simply advocate the status quo of restricted ART access (580).

The threat of reproductive anarchy and the ambiguity of nature and predominant social customs poses huge implications for lawmakers in the future, demonstrating the need for a collaboration of perspectives to preserve the conscience behind science today.

Questions to consider:

  • Is there a proper way to reconcile what is “natural” and what is best for “the preservation of humanity”? Do you view natural law as more of a dynamic or static force?
  • What implications do the bioethics debates in France have on the United States given our current healthcare system?

Unit 3 Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics (Giang Ha)

The Scripture lays the foundation for most of the discourse on reproductive ethics. In the second chapter of Genesis, it says that “a man leaves his father and mother and becomes attached to his wife… they [will] become one flesh”. This shows God’s image of marriage between a man and a woman. The first chapter of Genesis retells the story of how God created the Earth. This first chapter of Genesis summarizes and emphasizes that God is Creator and that he urges man and women to “be fruitful and multiply”, to bear children in his image. This understanding is the basis of what the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith published on the morals of medical intervention for child-bearing (Shannon et. al 140-173). The document understands the power that medical technology can give to man, and even though God gave man dominion over all animals and land, medical technology “can enable man to ‘take in hand his own destiny,’ but they also expose him ‘to the temptation to go beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature”( Shannon et. al 141). From the anthropological side, Pope John Paul II says that “each human person, in his absolutely unique singularity, is constituted not only by his spirit, but by his body as well” (Shannon et. al 144). Therefore, anything that does harm to the body also does harm to the soul. From the support of Genesis, Crossroad argues that “no one can in any circumstance claim for himself the right to destroy directly an innocent human being” (Shannon et. al 147).  This understanding supports the stance that human life should be respected and cared for since conception (Shannon et. al 148).

That human life also has “the right to be carried in the womb and brought into the world and brought up within marriage: It is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development (Crossroad 158). Furthermore, the parents will also have a sense of fulfillment of “self-giving: the child is the living image of their love, the permanent sign of their conjugal union, the living and indissoluble concrete expression of their paternity and maternity” (Crossroad 158). This document also realizes the negative effects this has on society” “What threatens the unity and stability of the family is a source of dissension, disorder and injustice in the whole of social life” (Shannon et. al 159). This aligns with Rousseau’s vision and reason for supporting the fact that artificial reproductive technology should only be restricted to a heterosexual couple (Ball 570).

Additionally, there is the question of the married heterosexual couple that are infertile. The Catholic Church states that “marriage does not confer upon the spouses the right to have a child, but only the right to perform those natural acts which are per se order to procreation” (Shannon et. al 168). I find this statement to be highly insightful. There are married couples who I say might feel entitled to have a baby, but I believe that a baby is a miracle. Being gifted with that miracle does not come to everyone. Maybe God has another plan for this couple, as supported by this statement that argues that “physical sterility can be for spouses the occasion for other important services to the life of the human person, for example, adoption, various forms of educational work and assistance to other families and to the poor and handicapped children” (Shannon et. al 169).

– What is your opinion on the Catholic Church’s statement of marriage not equating to having the right to have a child?


In France, laws to (ART) artificial reproductive technology also only allows “sterile, heterosexual couples of procreative age to use artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization procedures” (Ball 547). Despite the Enlightenment and many others who tried to add amends to this restriction, not much change has happened. However, a law in 1978 to “encourage the birth of children [pushed France to provide] complete coverage of ART” (Ball 550). A deputy said that ART was “dehumanizing” because it pushes away from the nature of procreation (Ball 557). The Enlightenment saw the family as defined as heterosexual couple to be indicative of social stability of society (Ball 559). Thus, this image of family was supported and pushed through the restrictive laws of ART. Overall, society has been deeply rooted in the values pushed on by Scripture, and though, like Professor Seeman has said, many may not identify as religious, these values are engrained in their moral decision making.

-Can you envision yourself making an amend to your moral in a tough situation?

-Who do you think ART laws should give access to?

Unit 3: Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics (Ayman Elmasri)

The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s passage on the “Respect for Human Life” (1987), dubbed Donum Vitae, Latin for “the gift (or donation) of life,” offers the Roman Catholic Church’s outlook on a number of biomedical issues. I thought it was important to put the “Respect for Human Life” document into perspective in order to understand it fully. The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF) is the oldest congregation of the Roman Curia, which is the “administrative apparatus of the Holy See and central body through which the [Pope] conducts the affairs of the universal Catholic Church.”1 In modern times, it acts to defend the church and the Catholic doctrine from heresy. Interestingly, this institution was formerly the Supreme Sacred Congregation of the Roman and Universal Inquisition, otherwise known as the   Roman Inquisition, which persecuted Galileo and Copernicus for their scientific theories on heliocentrism.1 A new document by the CDF was released in 2008, dubbed the Dignitas Personae (personal dignity or worth), and voices its perspective on “selective reduction, prenatal diagnosis, preimplantation diagnosis, in vitro fertilization, cryopreservation, embryo transfer, genetic engineering, [and] embryo donation.” The new document highlights continued opposition to contraception and abortion, and specifically mentions female condoms and the morning-after pill.2

Though the Moses’ first book, Genesis, seems to give humans “dominion over the Earth,” the Vatican wants to propose limitations on that dominion and even discusses at length the negotiations it seems to have with the realm of science and technology as both provenance of new possibilities, but also a potential source of sinful overindulgence. The document highlights the central value of human life and the human body, and underscores it as a principle of the both the church and the paper. This rationale is used to take positions on reproductive technologies, such as being against prenatal testing if it will lead to abortion, but allowing it if it leads to “therapeutic, medical, or surgical” assistance to the fetus/embryo; or being against artificial fertilization from a donor and surrogate motherhood because both break the holy sanctity of marriage. The paper also highlights a similar tenant to the medical Hippocratic oath, to “do no harm.” The passages suggest that to try to heal and to better is permissible (reminiscent of the “Good Samaritan” doctrine in law and medicine, which discourages inaction by “reducing liability if unintended consequences result from one’s help”).3

When reading Donum Vitae, I had an enduring question on my mind—does any of this matter, and how much? Since several of the Pope’s rulings don’t make it to the United States, there must be an extent to which the Church’s sway does not hold. As we can see from the first two chapters of Genesis, the Christian holy scripture is a dated one, and needs constant reinterpretation when faced with issues such as men having the same number of ribs as women (it was a belief that men were one rib short since Adam used one to create Eve).   

Though the Catholic Church’s outlook is critical for understanding the behavior of a large segment of the population, I hesitate to let it play such a large role by itself holding a degree of responsibility. Religious authorities largely play a game of interpretation. This same church decries homosexuality as a result of Leviticus 18:22 in the Bible, but then seemingly fails to take notice of the condemnation of tattoos in Leviticus 19:28 on the following page. It is for this reason that I have a hard time finding the value of religiously ethical intervention in a multi-religious society as in the United States. This passage was incredibly well-written, especially considering it was probably originally written in Italian or Latin, and very articulately enumerates the logic behind its stances.

(As an aside, the fluent and eloquent way that it was written honestly surprised me. I have spent a good amount of time debating religion and religious politics, and the people  with whom I debated were usually not well-read in scripture or very knowledgeable in general, outside the buzzword hot topic cliches such as homosexuality and abortion. I have never read primary literature from the Catholic Church, and have enjoyed seeing an academic level defense). 

The author Ball highlights that children were once a means of legitimizing a marriage, likely because it is a physical manifestation of a marriage, whereas love and virginity are emotions and abstractions. However, in 17th century France, the family institution went from a private matter to a moral and spiritual institution, and the “child” became a focal point for contemporary philosophy and legislative scrutiny. Rousseau is heavily quoted, as citing the family unit as a “prototype for the [country]”. Rosseau continues to be used to communicate a progressive scorn for the state’s  patriarchal involvement in family dynamics and politics, painting the government as an oppressive tyrant into the daily lives of its subjects. This central dogma of “volontée générale,” or general will (of the people), propels much of Ball’s argument that has been largely weighted on Renaissance philosophy. A theme common throughout Ball’s passage is that of “Natural Law,” and a focus that despite ART’s, the will of nature should be kept in mind. When examined closely, Rosseau took a shaky, muddily unclear position that didn’t seem to sway the argument in either direction—but perhaps that was the point.   

In 1994, the French Parliament voted to allow all technology to “enable procreation outside the natural process” as a remedy for infertility, and limited this to heterosexual couples who have been married for two years, and bans post-mortem and post-menopausal insemination. The French legislators against ART’s in during the creation of this law feared a sudden explosion in its use, leading to a “[destabilization] of the entire French social system.” As of 2012, 1 in 100 babies born in France are in vitro, and its society has yet to crumble.                

The unescapable value of the CDF’s Donum Vitae is that ethics is not black and white as Ball seems to suggest, but rather fifty shades of gray. Ball’s stress on Renaissance-era thinking pushes one to believe that in events of gray, one should err on the side of the people. The current ethics boards of fields outside of reproductive technologies are fairly arbitrary. Members of these committees are assembled…somehow…by someone, who likely has their own interests and moral code. These committee members subsequently rule on practice and protocol in scores of disciplines—medicine, research, the workspace, the court of law, politics. There is value in an independent body to have its own opinion during changing times of science. Many of our parents or grandparents are still uneasy or outright against accepted norms of modern (youth) culture, such as interracial and homosexual relationships; I state this because as our elders appear to ‘behind the times,’ we will also likely do the same to the next generation. The next topic of social debate might be marrying an AI program, and I patiently await the opinions of the Pontiff and Rousseau (reincarnate).


  • Extent to which the Vatican’s ruling should influence government laws for those not observing the Roman Catholicism?
  • Given your answer to the previous question, would your opinion change if the ethics of all religions come into conflict with scientific experts and ethical panels on an issue of a new technology—let’s say cloning—how do you think the two could reconcile?
  • Why do you think the first two chapters of Genesis were included in this week’s reading?
  • What is the government’s role when approached with the forces of conflicting ethics?
  • Should issues like these be offered to a public referendum to be decided by popular vote? Would that solve our problem

   Outside Sources

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Congregation_for_the_Doctrine_of_the_Faith
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dignitas_Personae
  3. https://definitions.uslegal.com/g/good-samaritans/

Unit Two: Reproduction and Cosmology (Giang Ha)

Clifford Geertz attempts to explain how anthropologists come to understand culture and to expose the possible dangers of how they do their research. Geertz ends with a possible way to avoid this danger. Geertz states that anthropologists use ethnographies to try to understand the cultures around them, and to him, ethnographies are extensive descriptions of the people and culture they are observing (6). He continues by mentioning that sometimes our perspective may be “obscured because most of what we need to comprehend a particular event, ritual, custom, idea, or whatever is insinuated as background information before the thing itself is directly examined” (9). He urges anthropologists, in order to combat that, to “sort out structures of signification…and determine their social ground” (9). Geertz believes that culture is semiotic and that there are signs that need to be interpreted (14). However, some of the dangers of interpreting a culture is that although we can make it more real by explaining it we could also be reducing it. Geertz asserts that “understanding a people’s culture exposes their normalness without reducing their particularity” (14). This is something that we should strive to do. We need to make sure that we are not separating that event or ritual away from its place of natural belonging but instead clarifying the event to those who may not be as familiar to it (Geertz 16-17). A way to avoid such dangers is “to plunge into the midst of them” because the ultimate goal of anthropology is “not to answer our deepest questions, but to make available to us answers that others…have fun…to include them in the consultable record of what man has said” (Geertz 30).

An example of evidence that Geertz provides in terms of analysis and interpretation problems is the story of the two boys who both seem to be either twitching or winking. One boy in reality could be twitching due to genetics while the other boy could be trying to send a message through a wink. Geertz added another boy who seemed to be doing the same thing, but in actuality, he might have been mocking the other two boys (7). One interpretation of this event could be that the boys could be playing a winking game and later another boy joins while another interpretation could be that they are all brothers who seem to be twitching together. These interpretations, based on Geertz, needs to be put into context based on their culture, finding the unique reason why this event is happening, while being careful not to reduce the event.

  • One statement Geertz make that is simple yet holds an important insight is that “culture is public because meaning is” (12). What do you think Geertz trying to get at here?
  • What do you think of Geertz’s solution to avoid reducing culture? Can you think of another way?
  • If culture was not characterized to be semiotic and culture was based on another definition, how might the interpretations and dangers of analysis be different?

Sherine Hamdy looks at accounts of where patients use religion to help make their decision on whether to include biotechnological intervention. Hamdy argues that “people’s understandings of religion and biomedical efficacy are often inextricably enmeshed and together factor into their cost-benefit calculations about medical intervention” (144). One piece of evidence she provides for this argument is man named Muhammad who suffered from kidney failure and had to decide between life spent with dialysis or getting a kidney transplant (Hamdy 145-146). In order to make his decision, Muhammad used religion to look at his costs and benefits, in which he concluded that the “costs outweigh the benefits, given that transplant operations are not always successful” (Hamdy 146). He would rather live his life continuously thanking and praising God for still being alive than to risk his life going through a transplant in which he may not come out alive (146). Hamdy states Muhammad’s doctor did not think that Muhammad’s submission to God’s will was correct (147). Hamdy argues that the decision to appeal to God’s will is an active one that is made to help cope with suffering (156). She also does not dismiss the fact that sometimes biotechnology is not always efficient treatment (156). She concludes by asserting that passivity to religion should not be looked down upon but rather should be paid more attention to its interrelation with biotechnology (157).

“An appreciation for what it means to embody a religious tradition in which religious reasoning and sentiment are not understood as external to the self, but as central to it, can help us broad our understanding of medical life-and-death decision and of ethical formations in devout patients’ lives” (Hamdy 157).

  • What are the ethical implications of Hamdy’s stories in terms of patient-doctor relationships?
  • How can Hamdy’s advise also be applied to ethnographies attempting to explain and describe different cultures?

Carol Delaney discusses the issue of frozen embryos and whether they should be used as research. She mentions the split in opinions by giving the example of the two doctors Ibrahim and Basalama. Ibrahim said that a fertilized egg and an embryo different in terms of what should be considered to have bodily integrity rights and is okay to be used for research while Basalama said that embryos should be returned to the woman Delaney (62). This issue was complicated even further by Ibadi and Yasin. Ibadi forbade making frozen embryos at all while Yasin said that certain conditions need to be present for frozen embryos to undergo research (68). Delany concludes that Islamic bioethics as well as Islam is not steadfast but instead of ongoing process (73).

  • Have you ever experienced had your “truth” shattered by presenting new evidence or rendering old evidence null?
  • What is your opinion what can and cannot be done on frozen embryos?
  • Compare and contrast the evidence Delaney and Hamdy uses for their argument. Do you think it is sufficient?

Unit 2: Reproduction & Cosmology (Alex Nazzari)

QuestionDid your understanding of kinship change when you read these articles? If so, how?

The meaning of cosmology sets the framework for the rest of this discussion: Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines it as “a branch of metaphysics” or a theory “describing the natural order of the universe.” Studies of various cultures aid in explaining medical ethics. Advances in medicine have changed the circumstances we consider normal and complicated the factors that motivate our perceptions. Hence, the study of cosmology generates discussion about the bioethical problems we create.

Cosmology also elucidates how deeply ingrained our notions of kinship terms have become. Kinship has been extended to cultural, religious, and political spheres. We have adapted our lexical use of kin terms to reflect novel social situations.

“Thick Description: Toward an Interpretive Theory of Culture”

Clifford Geertz explains that anthropology and ethnography are fields of study that use copious amounts of evidence to postulate about human behavior (9). His presentation alone comments on anthropology. He uses blinking as a representation for this type of evidence. After the example was sufficiently explained, only then did the author offer analysis and provide his assertions on the topic.

“Cultural analysis is (or should be) guessing at the meanings, assessing the guesses, and drawing explanatory conclusions from the better guesses, not discovering the Continent of Meaning and mapping out its bodiless landscape” (12).

Geertz acknowledges the limitations of observation as a method. Examples are, instead, valued because they uncover patterns in behavior. This allows us to talk about social constructs that humans have engineered in the first place (12). Experts simply observe and then attempt to make conjectures on the behavior’s significance. This analysis of anthropology helps explain the type of evidence that the authors of the following papers employ.

“Does Submission to God’s Will Preclude Biotechnological Intervention?”

Questions:  Who should have the responsibility to choose risky but potentially life saving procedures? Various cultures present different reasons for their ethical considerations; What factors influence your morals on these issues?

Sherine Hamdy asserts the following: “ I argue against the dominant narrative: that religious fatalism obstructs people from pursuing biotechnological intervention” (144). Merely considering the science, without cultural implications, does not allow us to discuss the ethical problems that have arised. She chooses to show this phenomenon through debates about organ transplants in Egyptian Muslim communities (143).

Muhammad and Ali’s stories were told in order to question their behavioral motives. Through anecdotes, she implies that it is easy to lose sight of your “sense of self” through illness. Instead, we resort to moral and often religious beliefs to cope with disease (145, 149). They both acted not according to a “fatalistic” approach (144) but, rather aligned their actions with their strong sense of right and wrong.

Ali found it easier to accept an organ if the donor was anonymous. “His refusal, […] was in particular [due to the] social situations in which he had to overcome [like finding his own donor] in order to proceed with the transplant” (151). Once sure the technology would cause no harm against others, Ali agreed to getting the transplant. Patients weigh the medical benefits against “sociomedical calculations of risk, costs and benefits” (147).

Naturalizing Power: “Father State, Motherland and the birth  of Modern Turkey”

Questions:  Does the concept of “mother” restrict women’s independence? Have we ingrained typical gender stereotypes through the way we talk about kinship terms?

Carol Delaney asserts that through kinship language, we propagate basic notions of man as procreator and woman as nurturer. The terms “mother” and “father” were established through traditional gender stereotypes but now extend to many human ideologies.

The Turkish society exemplifies how “language, culture and ideas”  transformed our speaking about our relationships (188). Citizens originally promoted a “fatherland” theory. A construct that explained the pride and the conquering nature of distinguishing themselves as a country (180). The roles switched when they were under attack. By resorting to calling their nation a “motherhood, ” the Turks were internalizing the value of protection and defense (184).

Hence, Delaney claims that humans constructed these kinship terms early on, but the meaning of kin has drastically changed. For instance, the Turks internalized “nationality” as a feeling, whereas, “citizenship is much more restrictive [and clear-cut] as a child with a Turkish father is a citizen” (188). Hence, the “blurred boundaries between the seemingly distinct social domains of family, nation and religious communities,” (178) shows how connected our ideas of family are in other aspects of life.

Muslim Medical Ethics: Decision-Making Processes among Contemporary ‘Ulama’

QuestionsWhat is your interpretation of the following decisions on medical procedures? How do the regulations created define a larger sense of what is ethical?

Eich explores the implications of in vitro fertilization (IVF) and the creation of unnatural embryos. He asserts that “terminological inconsistencies, legal developments […] and manipulation of discussion”  have shaped the following three bioethical conversations about reproductive technology (62).

The 1987 meeting of the Islamic Org. of Medical Sciences brought together scholars, lawyers and doctors to discuss Sharia law. After debates about linguistic terminology and questions of morality, the conclusion was that the beginning of life was not so clear. Science was “Islamized” because it, often, was not the best explanation for these complex moral issues (66). Being “human,” meant the “being” looked like a human and began “ensoulment” (67).

The meeting of 1989 addressed the extra embryos created by reproductive technologies and concluded they could be used for research because the embryo is not yet “human.” They interpreted abortion in a similar way. The Organization of Islamic Conferences (OIC) in 1990 was much more restrictive (72). Only the exact number of embryos should be created and any extra should be let die “naturally” (70). The “manipulation of discussion” (72) at this meeting resulted in a less democratic process and stringent religious guidelines.

Questions About the Writing Styles of These ReadingsEach author had slightly different ways to presented an argument and incorporate evidence. Which paper(s) presented evidence that you found most effective and why?