Jessica Ambroise Final Blog- Support for IVF


Many people would struggle to produce their own offspring, indefinitely, if it were not for in vitro fertilization (IVF). This reproductive technology, like its counterparts, is nothing short of a miracle. In the film, Made in India, it is evident that infertile couples in America can deal with devastating emotional pain. One of its main characters, Lisa, explains that “a woman, a lot of times, defines herself by her ability to have children” (00:30).  Surely, one of the most easily discernable differences between the male and female sex is in fact, the capacity to give birth. Most women are reminded of this every month when their uterine linings shed because fertilization has not occurred.  Because we have been socialized to understand womanhood through such lenses, barren women suffer from societal depreciation.  Susan Kahn speaks to this in her book about reproductive technologies with Jewish women in Israel. She writes, “the childless woman is to be pitied and prayed for; her suffering is the quintessential form of female suffering and her joy at childbirth the quintessential form of female joy “(3).  Again, the linking of childbirth and children to womanhood plays a major part in many women’s’ understanding and appreciation of themselves.

Lisa’s options were limited to technologies requiring that did not carry a child. IVF was her last shot at having a child made from her and her husband’s genetic material. Unfortunately, Lisa’s uterus was precancerous and surgically removed (3:23). IVF’s technology provided her with a final chance at having a biological child through surrogacy. It is important to note that the couple considered adoption and support it, but found the process to be more expensive and complex than having a child through IVF. Although IVF could not guarantee that they would have a child with a less than 50% success rate and going through a difficult adoption process would, they chose IVF (04:13).

Lisa explained that it was important to birth this biological child to hopefully recover parts of her father, who died of lymphoma.  She says, “he was witty and I hope my kids have the chance to be smart and silly like him” (04:35). Lisa’s husband responds with a remark on how “beautiful” a child they created could be (04:44). Similarly, in On Kinship and Marriage…, Susan McKinnon explains how evolutionary psychologists see genetic relatedness as the defining characteristic of true kinship and that “people do not want to ‘waste’ resources on children that are not genetically their own” (107).  This notion appears to be at work in the case of Lisa and her husband, as they find value in their genetic materials and the ability to reproduce or combine them.

Some people may say that this mindset is problematic and can be likened to eugenics, but that is far-fetched. Finding value in one’s own biological qualities does not mean one finds them more valuable than anyone else’s. The drives behind the idea to create biological children are often both cultural and survivalist. We are continuously taught to apprize biological lineage through early kinship teachings in the Bible. For example, there is something interesting about the Bible verse that says, “God created humankind in his image” (1:27). A literal reading of this sentence conveys that there is something important about one’s offspring reflecting themselves.  Many people may feel that children who share some of a parents’ genotypic and phenotypic characteristics could arguably do a better job at “reflecting” their parents than children who just share their values.   In other words, people want to have their own children because it is a societal norm and contributes to symbolic familial legacies. The latter attitude can become especially important to families that have dealt with trauma, like Lisa’s.

Beyond the personal experiences of the American couple mentioned earlier, we must consider what God would desire for couple who wanted but could not produce a child.

The fact is, most women of child bearing age are equipped with the biological machinery to produce children. So, when a woman learns that she cannot, after years of believing that she could—why should she have to accept that? If we believe that God gave us this power, only to learn that it was unusually taken away, is it not okay for man-made technology to return it? Wouldn’t God want this?

I believe so. Children are so valuable that God “blessed” Adam and Eve with the power to create them or “be fruitful and multiply” in the first chapter of the Bible (Genesis 1:28). God then instructs humans to take over the earth and other lifeforms that come with it (1:28). This is the pedagogical basis for the pronatalist agenda that exists in Israel (Kahn 94). Whether you believe in God or not, most of us believe that the duty to control the earth lies upon humans because our brains are highly advanced. We are naturally equipped with brainpower, coupled with complex anatomical and physiological structures to do exactly what God instructed.  We’ve been using technology to advance and aid our species for years, so why should IVF be forbidden?

Kahn shares words from Judge Tsvi Tal who says, “the interest in parenthood is a basic and existential value, both for the individual and society as a whole…” (68). Although I do not agree that everyone wants or should want to be parents, I believe that support should be provided to people who want to but cannot. The existential crises that Judge Tal mentions when it comes to infertility is not real for everyone, but for some, it can be unbearable. All people deserve the right to have children, if they want to. The government has no place in controlling people’s bodies, and preventing them from technologies that have no clear-cut designation as right or wrong. When people cannot support the children because of traumatic and uncommon reproductive hindrances, governmental assistance could be a huge gift to them.

Some may argue that IVF is useless. Some might ask: why can’t infertile couples just adopt? Well, there are many issues with this. First, it assumes that the adoption process is simpler than IVF.  Again, as Lisa from Made in India mentions, the adoption process can be very expensive and tedious (04:13. This makes it virtually inaccessible to many members of our population. Interestingly, the price of IVF is lower than the average cost of adoption in the United States. On average, an adoption may cost a family about $35,000 more than IVF.[1] Poorer families do not have the slightest chance at adoption. The interviewing processes required during adoption may also place an extra strain on poorer families who are viewed as less fit to take care of children. Although adoption’s legal measures are likely set in place with good reason, there is also bias in the fact that biological parents are not assessed as heavily when it comes to their children.  Seemingly, these loopholes affirm the notion that non-biological parents are less motivated to care for children than biological ones.

Moreover, although I believe that people who go through the arduous task of gaining children through reproductive technologies are likely to care for them, I could imagine a situation wherein a huge financial investment may be detrimental to parent-child relationships. For example, children that understand how difficult it was for their parents to adopt them may feel constrained by expectations their parents place on them. Adoptive parents may also feel pressure to ensure that they “do everything right” to ensure that their children grow up to become what they expect or ensure that their resources were put to good use. Nevertheless, IVF would not only support the pervasive societal to have biological children, but funding it would be less burdensome on the government and families than adoption is.

In all, if we do not push for IVF funding, we will exacerbate the burdens of sterility. People who want children should not be denied by nature or the government.  This could have even greater consequences for infertile, poorer and post-Cancer couples—who deserve to have children as much as anyone else but are obstructed by ability. Many poorer families, in the U.S. and abroad, rely on their children to survive.  Teenagers may be able to find work to contribute to household expenses. Likewise,  according to Seeman’s Blessing Unintended Pregnancy study, it is evident that having children (although a financial burden) was a catalyst for positive change in the lives of disadvantaged women (5).  Moreover, as cancer remains a leading cause of death in our country, people who receive radiative therapy may beat cancer yet be left infertile. They deserve the right to reproductive technologies, like IVF, if they desire to as well. Although our government cannot play a role in every unfortunate aspect of our lives, its impact on our lives is significant. Government-supported IVF could give willing parents the children they deserve.


Emma Alafe- Final: Dr. Alafe’s Congressional Plea for the Funding of Stem Cell Research

Good morning men and women of the Congress,

My name is Dr. Emmanuela Alafe. I am a neurosurgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital, with a specialization in neurodegenerative disorders. I have been practicing in New York for 18 years and I am extremely excited to expand my ideologies beyond the city. Within these 18 years, I have had the opportunity to encounter numerous patients of differing nationalities, ethnicities, age and gender groups, religious affiliations, and social class. New York city has a large Jewish population, so it is no surprise that a great percentage of the patients I see are in fact Jewish. I am a Catholic, and I am as passionate about my status as a Catholic as much as I am about my status as a medical professional. I have utilized my hospital role as a way to understand the “mind of the patient”. Now you all may be wondering why I am bringing religious knives to a political gun fight but we know all too well that there are 2 aspects of every person’s identity that greatly encroach upon on their decision-making: religious affiliation and political party identification, and the two are far from mutually exclusive. The 2016 election is a large-scale example that although there is a separation of church and state, religion is a huge part of the lives of many in the U.S. And as can be seen by the demographics of people that voted for our current U.S. president, religion has the ability to align individuals into the same ideology and is used as a tool of political, social, and moral reasoning. So I come before you all today to make a plea for the funding of stem cell research, also known as therapeutic cloning. You all may be concerned with the political backlash of approving funding because of the social connotation associated with the term “cloning”. Pop culture has taken the term and manifested it into an egregious Frankenstienien process, creating a misnomer of its actuality. I am a medical professional and I am sure you and all your colleagues are very intelligent, but allow me to inform you all in my area of expertise as you will soon inform me in yours. There are three main subject matters that I would like you all to understand: the pathway of neurodegenerative disorders, religion, and the ability of cloning to contribute to treatment and its place in the moral scope of our United States. Working at Mt. Sinai I have been exposed to so many new ideals. As a result, my perspective has shifted into one that incorporates both Catholic and Jewish moral definitions, thus has affected my stance on bioethics and the need for the American government, a body of people governing one of the most diverse nations on Earth, to incorporate these differing perspectives as well.

Firstly, what is a neurodegenerative disorder? Well, I will tell you what it is not as of now: curable. To put it simply, our brains are made up of billions of nerve cells that allow us to check the mail, drive a car, deliver a speech, sign a funding mandate, change the world, etc. Every move we make, every thought we think, every breath we take, is because of the firing of neurons, which is why the brain is the center of our beings. The brain is extraordinary. But when things go wrong, the result is unfortunately just as extraordinary. Parkinson’s: a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the death of neurons in the Substantia Nigra; Alzheimer’s: a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the loss of neurons in the cerebral cortex; Schizophrenia: a neurodegenerative disorder caused by the loss of hippocampal volume and incorrectly firing neurons; Dementia, Prion disease, Huntington’s disease, the list goes on and on. As I said before, they are incurable. Don’t get me wrong there is treatment, but these treatments are largely based on feeding the brain the neurotransmitters that would be released by normal functioning neurons, but the results are a cure of the symptoms, not the disease itself and often are an incomplete treatment of the symptoms at that. We have advanced years beyond the scope of what could have been predicted a 100 years ago, and as we are faced with some of the most life altering diseases, the only answer we can provide is one that slaps a band-aid onto a continuously bleeding and infected bullet hole. Now if I told you that I had a busted tire on my car, a broken bike chain, a blown out light bulb, you would tell me to replace it. Then my car would run smoothly, my bike wouldn’t jam up, and my lamp would shine brighter than ever. So here is a patient with a problem in which a part of the brain is not functioning properly, what would you tell me as a doctor to do to that part of a person’s brain? Ah-hah, replace it. Now of course it is not as simple as a bike chain or a tire, nor do we even know how well replacing it would be, but with some research already done, the answer appears more promising than not.

I will try to level with you all and your livelihood as politicians, and of course the political dangers of drastic decision making. Many see cloning and other reproductive technologies as immoral. Even the President’s council on Bioethics believed that such an act will have negative implications for humanity. But there is mass misinformation about cloning ingrained into our American society. But it is your job to deliver the truth and correct that. The same way famous Greek thinker Pythagoras challenged the popular belief that the Earth was flat – was there some pushback, of course, but was he correct, of course. Let us look at society, and our derivation of morality. Many cognitive psychologists argue that one’s moral compass is directed by brain functioning/ genes. In the world of natural and social science we believe that genes affect behavior, but it is the environment that interacts with genes in order to determine behavior and personality, and as a result, one’s moral compass. Environment and culture are as strongly bonded as two social determinants can be. And what is one main characteristic that divides and defines cultures? Religion.

The Catholic Church has expressed its views on reproductive technologies in the famous Donum Vitae: “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”. In it, the Church’s claims are built on Genesis, known to all Christians, Catholics, and Jews as “the Beginning”. You all may be familiar with some of its words but I will gladly reiterate some of the main ideas: God said let there be light, God created Adam/man from dust, God gave Adam/man dominion over the Earth, God said to be fruitful and multiply, and God created man in His own image. What causes a lot of division amongst religions and creates thousands of denominations are the differing interpretations of fundamental scriptures like Genesis. We Catholics believe that God gave man the Gift of life and that Adam’s (man’s) dominion over the Earth gives us the freedom to take control of the Earth and all that inhabits it, this includes reproductive technology (Catholic Church, 141). But it is up to man to know where the line is and to not cross it. This however is where myself and the Catholic Church diverge: they believe that using these reproductive tools are an imposition of the Godliness of God, and is an attempt for man to elevate himself to a level of God, because of the ability of reproductive technology to allow man to create man (Catholic Church, 141). I have had the opportunity to converse with many Jewish patients and catch glimpse of their ideology. I was intrigued by their Jewish traditions and philosophy. Upon further research, I discovered ideals unbeknownst to me, and have found myself viewing biblical scripture through a different lens than what is stated in Donum Vitae. This is not a plea for Catholics and Christians to abandon their ideology but more so a plea for openness of thought and philosophy. Jewish law is unopposed to cloning. This is because of the Jewish interpretation of foundational scripture. Their belief is that God wants man to be enthralled into a partnership with him, and change the Earth towards a more positive beacon of Godliness and rid ourselves of the darkness that plagues imperfect human existence (Breitowitz, 326). Now how can the two find common ground?

The Catholic Church says that although we have this ordained dominion, we must know our limits, alluding to a disapproval of stem cell research. Catholics take what Jewish people may deem the backseat approach to life (Breitowitz, 326). In the Catholic way, because morality is based on the idea that God has created us the way God wants us to be, it is no surprise that meddling with creation with a powerful tool such as the technologies man has made today, would be seen as a blasphemous act, punishable by hell fire. The Jewish view says that we are imperfect beings working with God to become better as a people, so it is also no surprise here that utilizing a tool such as reproductive technology, may be seen as an act in God’s will. Once again, let us compromise and think about this philosophically. God created Adam in a “perfect world”- the Garden of Eden. There was no sin, no disease, no evil. In this perfect world, I would strongly and only support the Catholic view. If the world is without flaw, then yes, God wants us to recognize this gift and take a backseat to the comfort and holiness of thy environment created by thy Creator. But, according to the Bible, the violation of God’s commands by indulging in an impure apple, corrupted the holiness of the world and banished man from the perfect sanctity of life (Genesis, Chapter 3). With this post- Garden of Eden realization, I can see the support for the Jewish view, needing to collaborate with God, and heal the world as best as man can do, leaning on the strength and blessings of the Father while sorting through the rubble to build a better Earth than the one we are currently living in. So, to compile this fundamental and foundational story, and these 2 views, we must recognize that we are living in a post- Garden of Eden society, one that is full of death, famine, and disease, so the Jewish view is more applicable. This does not discredit the Catholic view, because as I said before, the Catholic view is one that creates or rather attempts to recreate this perfect beacon of human existence, thus would be the justification of their view of morality, being that of a pre-sin era. The Donum Vitae is a theological piece that would have been equivalent to the U.S. Constitution, had man never been locked out of the Garden. But since we are not living in a perfect world, I believe it is reasonable to try and move towards that, and adopting tools that will help us get there, such as reducing the rampant nature of disease, is a step in the right direction.

The President’s Council on Bioethics is the mouthpiece of medical morality for the President. They are concerned with the moral implications that cloning will have on our society and go on to speak of the possibilities of eugenics and therapeutic cloning being a gateway to reproductive cloning (Kass, 77). But of course there are risks, and those who will want to misuse the technology. However, those people and risks are exceptions, and the exception should not be the rule. Place regulations on cloning, in the same way we place regulations on alcohol, prescription drugs, driving- all of which have caused death and misfortune for many that abuse them. But those people do not represent the whole, and thus should not spoil it for the rest of the law- abiding citizens, as they obviously do not because all three are still legal. Furthermore, the risks involved with all 3 do not discredit alcohol’s power as a social tool, prescription drugs power as a medical treatment tool, or driving’s power as a transportation tool for getting people to and from work and contributing to our bustling economy. So, therapeutic cloning’s power as a lifesaving tool should not be discredited either. One of the Catholic Church’s major arguments against stem cell research is the imminent death that many, many embryos face during the process. This is seen as a disrespect to human life and condemned by the Catholic Church (Catholic Church, 147-148). Now, I’ll pose a rhetorical question to you all: is an embryo to be considered a human life? Your answer to that question will greatly affect how you view stem cell research. But here is where you have to abandon your personal view. And although Catholics would answer yes, the Donum Vitae is not the law of the land. In the Supreme Court, as I am sure you are all aware of, there is such thing called Stare Decisis, which means that the decisions made by the Supreme Court on a current case, will be a precedent to the decision made in future cases. I bring this up because, the rules should not change just because the procedure is different. If under U.S. law abortion is legal and it involves death to developing human lives, why is it not then permissible for stem cell research, which also involves the death of developing human lives. The Council on Bioethics, a government appointed group recognizes this and thus do not completely regard the embryo as equivalent to a fully developed human life, calling it an “intermediate moral status” (Kass, 142).

We are an evolving society. To pose an analogy, think about how many Christians and Catholics get on planes every day, but the Christians and Catholics in the time of the Wright Brothers might have said “humans shouldn’t fly because it is unnatural, if God wanted us to fly he would have given man wings”. So are they contradicting their religious beliefs, are they engaging in an immoral act by booking a flight? No. They recognize that we are in a time where technology allows us to make our lives better and more productive. Think about all the children air lifted to Emergency care by helicopter, or the ability of the U.S. to fly the two, now alive, ebola patients overseas. The point is, technologies such as planes and reproductive technology is not an effort for man to turn their backs on morality, but more so an effort to improve the lives of man. So, allow us to educate the public of the possibilities of cloning/stem cell research. Is it not an American right to be informed? This nation was founded on a Republic and a union between government and “We the People”, so it is an injustice to the governed to withhold knowledge based on the supposed ideals of the governing. But how are we to educate the public if we are not completely educated ourselves? Delving into this research can drastically change the ability to treat some of the grimmest of diseases. Give way to the undiscovered, and allow us to break new grounds and change the face of medicine forever. The answer to the neurodegenerative diseases that have plagued the meaning of existence for many, young and old, may be right in front of us. So please do not deny us the answer. You all fund programs and profit from the taxation of commodities that kill us every single day, so why not fund something that has the possibility to save our lives?

Thank You.

Alana Redden Final Blog Post – Cloning

Good afternoon. My name is Maria Stefford with the Interfaith Council on Reproductive Technology. With a doctorate degree in Bioethics and a Masters of Divinity, I am in a special position to testify in front of you all today on the issue of cloning. The topic of cloning may elicit what esteemed bioethics professor Arthur Caplan has been known to call the ‘yuck factor’ — a visceral reaction to such seemingly unnatural technology (Prainsack 175). However, as the chairman of the 1997 Presidential Council on Bioethics once admited, “revulsion is not an argument” (175). I ask that you take this opportunity to stay open-minded and consider my reasoning intellectually, and not emotionally. I will offer two different theological and religious perspectives in favor of continuing funding for the government regulated human cloning research program. Before we begin, I find it necessary to outline the science behind cloning.

Each human brought into this world possesses a genetic code comprised of nucleic and mitochondrial DNA. In traditional conception, the former is inherited from both parents, the latter inherited solely from the mother. In the case of cloning, scientists isolate nucleic genetic material from cells of one single donor. They then introduce this genetic material into an ovum that has been stripped of its genetic code (although the mitochondrial genes will come from the surrogate carrier). The egg — containing transplanted DNA — is then electrically stimulated to behave like a fertilized egg and begins to split. This egg is implanted into a surrogate’s uterus where the cells will continue to divide and grow. Normal gestation will follow and the surrogate will give birth to a fully formed human being at the end of pregnancy. (Broyde 297-298)

Having laid the basic scientific groundwork, I will take off my biological hat and put on my theological hat. Because human cloning technology is still in the abstract, hypothetical stages, not all the major religious institutions have released official positions on the issue. I will use a combination of published material and my own expert analysis to explore its relationship to Judaism and Catholocism.

Jewish theological and legal scholars have written specifically on theissue of cloning and determined that it is not in violation of Jewish law. In Michael Broyde’s essay, “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law,” he states the following:

In sum…when no other method is available, it would appear that Jewish law accepts that having children through cloning is a mitzvah [good deed] in a number of circumstances and is morally neutral in a number of other circumstances. Clones, of course, are fullyhuman, and are to be treated with the full dignity of any human being. (315)

Although Broyde is not advocating for cloning to be the primary mode of reproduction — and I do not know of anyone who is — he makes it clear that it is not immoral according to Jewish law. Furthermore, cloning seems to fulfill the biblical obligations for those who are barren and living in pro-natalist societies like Israel (301). As explicated in Genesis 1:28, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth…” Given that children conceived in Israel using other reproductive technologies like in-vitro fertilization are the legal children of the donor, it seems cloning would follow suit (301). If the clone possessed a Jewish man’s DNA and was brought in his Jewish wife’s womb, that couple would fulfill their biblical obligations, still produce a child within the sanctity of their marriage, and the clone would attain full legal and religious status.

I now shift focus to a seminal Catholic text. In lieu of a document that addresses cloning specifically, I will focus on three arguments in Donum Vitae to exemplify how cloning does not necessarily violate many Catholic ideals in the way the Catholic Church feels other types of reproductive technologies do. Firstly, it is articulated that human procreation must take place within a marriage. “[F]rom the moral point of view a truly responsible procreation vis-a-vis the unborn child must be the fruit of marriage” (157). With nucleic genetic material originating from a husband and the mitochondrial genetic material originating from a wife, and the clone growing in the wife’s womb, a Catholic couple can absolutely produce a clone that is the product of their marriage, both in terms of genes and kinship. Secondly, it is asserted that, “the doctor is at the service of persons and of human procreation. [They do] not have the authority to dispose of them or to decide their fate” (167). The human cloning trials facilitated by the federal research program will seek consenting adults as both genetic donors and surrogates. They will have autonomy and control over their genetic material — not the doctors. Therefore, the medical persons involved in the trials will not have decision making power regarding the fate of an embryo. They will be the facilitators in the donor and surrogates’ procreative process. Thirdly, it is made clear that the government must protect the well being of the people. “It is part of the duty of the public authority to ensure that the civil law is regulated according to the fundamental norms of the moral law in matters concerning human rights, human life…” (171-172). The research program will be highly regulated and monitored to ensure just that.

I would be remiss to ignore the potential dangers of cloning. Yitzchok Breitowitz, in his essay in the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal titled “What’s So Bad About Human Cloning,” astutely identifies a multitude of risks associated with human cloning. First, it would be necessary to determine how the technology would be funded. Publicly funded human cloning programs would exist at the potential expense of social services, whereas privately funded human cloning programs would result in unequal access and raise eugenics concerns (Breitowitz 333-334). Second, clones in the early stages of human trials would likely face high viability, health, and disability risks (335). This was also the case with the early stages of in-vitro fertilization technology, which is now a popular technology used on a global scale. Third, there might be psychological burdens associated with being a clone — specifically issues of identity, expectation and individuality. Fourth, there are evolutionary and survival benefits of broad genetic diversity within a population. Widespread cloning could potentially jeopardize that diversity, which could have dire consequences in the future. And lastly, cloning provokes contested questions of immortality, human intervention and evolution. Is there a line in the sand? If so, would we be crossing it?

I am not advocating for unregulated, uncensored human cloning. Consent of all parties is mandatory. Responsible implementation of practices is vital. All theoretical and practical consequences must be considered. With that being said, we stand on the precipice of a technological revolution. We have the opportunity to set international precedent for reproductive technology. Our country’s ideas of family, parenthood and reproduction are shifting — let us enable the technology to reflect these changing times. I ask the members of Congress here to continue the funding for government regulated human cloning research program. With the hard work of our best and our brightest, the possibilities are endless. Thank you.

Testimony on Amniocentesis by a Catholic Pro-Life Activist

Let me pose a difficult question: Who gets to determine who lives and who dies? Personally, I don’t think that any human has the right to do so. Human life is in the hands of God, and God only. But there are those who believe that people, specifically pregnant women, should be able to determine whether their unborn children deserve to live or not. As you all know, I am talking about genetic testing, specifically amniocentesis, and its link to a much greater problem, abortion. Ultimately, whenever a woman goes to a clinic for testing, she is considering aborting what she considers an unhealthy baby (even if the thought is just in the very back of her mind), and therefore, the administration of these tests must not be permitted, or at the very least, funded by the government.

Amniocentesis is a form of testing in which a large needle is stuck into the uterus of a woman fairly late into her pregnancy to test her amniotic fluid for chromosomal defects and genetic disorders. This test is dangerous for the baby, and could potentially cause a miscarriage. However, it is recommended for all women over the age of 35 in America (Rapp 33). When a pregnant woman is given a negative test result, she is relieved, and has nothing to worry about for the rest of her pregnancy, but when a woman is given a positive diagnosis, her life has changed forever. In this moment, she is given the impossible choice of whether to let her child be born and live with a disability, or die.

Amniocentesis creates the idea of tentative pregnancy, in which a pregnancy is not truly considered until the results of the test are given. This is not true, as the fetus is not a ‘temporary life’ until testing; it is a human being from the moment of conception. The idea of selective abortion, or late abortion that is due to a diagnosis, comes out of these tests. It forces women to avert their eyes to the fact that they are debating ending a life.

For one, this sounds quite a bit like eugenics. No individual person is more important or more powerful than another, so nobody has the right to control which types of people get to live and which do not. This could create a “slippery slope of a eugenic boutique,” because if we can choose to narrow down the disabled population, who is to say that we won’t decide to narrow down a race that people in power deem inferior? Or create a society in which the rich get to choose what their future children will be like before birth (Rapp 38)? This is simply morally wrong. Human beings do not have the agency to decide who gets to be born. This is God’s domain.

I believe that it is better not to bear the burden of knowledge of whether one’s unborn child does or doesn’t have a chromosomal disability. Firstly, these disabilities manifest in different ways, and many people with them lead perfectly normal lives. Secondly, the diagnosis causes more anxiety and possibly even resentment towards the child. Finally, and most obviously, this knowledge provides people with the idea that they can destroy the life of their child if they do not like the test result. Without amniocentesis, families will take life’s challenges as they come, and if the child is born with a disability and they do not want to keep him/her, they can consider adoption. It is unfair, however, for parents to choose to end the child’s life without his/her consent, which cannot be done in utero.

I will admit that many of my ideas do stem from my faith. However, Catholicism is not only a religion, but a moral code for which all people should follow, and it is my duty to help ensure that all people are not following the path of sin. When it comes to abortion, the Church’s natural moral law forbids the destruction of human life, as all people have a “right to life from the moment of conception until death,” and God is the only one who has the right to “destroy directly an innocent human being” (Donum Vitae 146). The Second Vatican Council ruled that “abortion and infanticide are abominable crimes,” and that from the point of fertilization, a person has a soul (D.V. 147). With this in mind, I ask you all, would you kill a five year old child that cannot stand up for itself? I would assume that your answer to this question would be ‘no.’ There is no difference in the soul between a five year old and a fetus, or even a grown adult, for that matter. The Church said specifically that any genetic testing that could plant thoughts about abortion is a “gravely illicit act” (D.V. 148). The laws of the Church have been put in place to provide a moral and ethical path for all humans, and it would be wise to use it as a guideline to stop immoral acts from happening in this country.

I would like to bring up an example of a country that treats pregnancy and the creation of human life as a miracle: Japan. In Japan, there is a culture of treating pregnancy as a full time job in which the mother-to-be is constantly working to do her best to serve her child. Japanese pregnant women are careful not to harm their babies, and generally do not work or use public transportation in order to avoid danger. They even spend time performing Taikyo, or the practice of educating and bonding with the unborn baby. In Japan, amniocentesis is rarely used, since there is an understanding among the society that the test is both dangerous and useless, as the vast majority of women would not be having abortions if they received positive diagnoses anyway. There is a deep respect for the fetus and it’s soul, and it is displayed when Japanese families memorialize their miscarried children. Even without the guidelines of the Catholic Church, Japanese society understands the morality of the natural law that requires the respect of the fetus (Ivry, Ch 3). The United States should use this as an example of how we can improve our own societal flaws and guide people in the right direction.

The idea that knowledge is power is extremely important. However, the knowledge acquired through amniocentesis creates a major burden on all parties involved. Doctors and genetic counselors are in the position of having to decide what to advise parents. Genetic testing does provide them with their entire businesses, but money and business have no place in this type of moral debate. Without amniocentesis, these people could find jobs elsewhere. The government has to deal with the burden of protecting or allowing people to selectively destroy their own babies. Government officials are first and foremost concerned with the wellbeing of their constituents, so they should count these fetuses as part of the community and work to serve them as well. The pregnant mother and her husband have much at stake, as they are forced to “act as a moral philosopher of the limits, adjudicating the standards guarding entry into human community for which she serves as a normalizing gatekeeper” (Rapp 131). Amniocentesis, along with abortion, causes the woman to consider questions such as ‘am I making a statement against people with disabilities,’ ‘at what point am I committing to my child,’ ‘what if the test was wrong and I aborted a healthy baby,’ and ‘does a person with disabilities not deserve to live?’ We talk about the positive impact of diversity, so what kind of moral society would we be if we eliminated people with differences? We need to appreciate these differences and embrace them. Finally, I believe that the fetus itself has the most at stake. If a woman decides to abort her baby, she has eliminated the life of a person who could not speak up for him/herself. Every human, including those with disabilities, has the potential to change the world. Aborting a fetus would destroy this soul’s opportunity to live and serve God and his/her community.

These problems could all be avoided in two ways. One way would be to ban abortion, which would make the need for amniocentesis disappear. Another way would be to ban the test itself, which would not allow women to even consider abortion due to disability. Without testing, this kind of selective abortion would not be possible. However, since we are not debating this, I would suggest, at the very least, defunding clinics that perform amniocentesis. This would help prevent women from considering selective abortion.

I would like to conclude by thanking you all for listening to my advice. Of course my beliefs do stem from my Catholic faith, however, even while stepping out of this position I cannot accept the idea of a genetic test that directly leads to women considering abortion. Instead of focusing funding on these tests, we should put the money into helping families with disabled children. This would promote the moral ideal of treating others kindly and with respect. Thank you, and I appreciate your support.



Ivry, Tsipy. “The Path of Bonding.” Embodying Culture. N.p.: n.p., n.d. N. pag. Print.

Rapp, Rayna. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis in America. New York: Routledge, 2000. ProQuest Ebrary. ProQuest. Web.

Shannon, Thomas A., and Lisa Sowle Cahill. “Appendix.” Afterword. Religion and Artificial Reproduction: An Inquiry into the Vatican “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Human Reproduction”. New York: Crossroad, 1988. N. pag. Print.



Final- Kennede Miller

This speech was written from the perspective of a medical professional specializing in reproductive technology as if it were being given before Congress.

As a distinguished medical professional with a wide range of expertise in the area of reproductive technology, it is an honor to be able to address you today on such a controversial topic. Cloning has led to much controversy in the scientific and medical world and I feel it is of importance to address the issues of such a technology that has the capability to alter the creation of life. By definition, reproductive cloning creates an organism that has the exact same nuclear DNA as an already existing organism. This is possible by the transfer of a nucleus into an empty donor egg. This egg is then transferred into the uterus of the host organism. While this process seems simple and straightforward on the surface, it has actually developed into one of the more debated and problematic of the reproductive technologies currently available. I am here before you today to propose a continuation of funding for the research of reproductive cloning in hopes that someday it will become accepted and used just as often as other reproductive technologies on the market.


Due to the wide range of expertise I hold within the arena of reproductive technology and in order to give you the best idea of why funding should be continued, I would first like to address the arguments that exist against reproductive cloning. First and foremost, the very obvious argument exists in that cloning alters and plays with human life in a way that God has not intended it to be. This argument is very prominent within the Catholic religion. As a medical professional, I wish not to impose religious beliefs upon you, but simply to provide you with a basis to make the proper decision to continue funding for our research. In order to do so, it is necessary to analyze reproductive cloning within the Catholic faith. The Catholic faith views reproductive cloning as an asexual act, one that strips the sacred procreative act from husband and wife. The egg is viewed as an experiment or as technologically manipulated, rather than natural and willed by God. According to the Church, using technology to produce children is not the natural way to reproduce and therefore is not the Godly way (Breitowitz).  It is safe to say that the Catholic religion would reject funding for these very reasons. As I stand here and address you, it would be naïve of me to ignore the possibility that many of you are Catholic. With this being said, I ask you to look past the view that life is being manipulated, and more towards the idea that reproductive cloning is being used to grant life to those that may not be able to conceive otherwise. I know the Catholic religion places emphasis on the family, and the very fact that cloning allows a mother and father to have a child of their own, with similar DNA, should encourage you to want to contribute funds to further research.


While I am sure there exists more than just Catholics who oppose this practice, I am here to address some of the other arguments against the continuation of funding for reproductive cloning. Aside from the argument that reproductive cloning involves the manipulation of life, many people also hold onto the idea that we are manipulating genetics as well. People are cautious that “cloning-to-produce-children could come to be used privately for individualized eugenic or “enhancement” purposes” (Kass 108). I argue that although this is a legitimate concern in regards to maintaining the “naturalness” of human nature, this concern would be irrelevant if reproductive cloning were to become common within society. While I am standing here today to argue for the continuation of funding in regards to reproductive cloning, I am not making the claim that this technology would be permissible without restriction. As a medical professional with only the best interests of human nature in mind, it would be unfathomable to allow cloning under any reservations. If funding were to be provided, I can assure you that regulations would be put in place to restrict the situations unto which the technology could be used. These regulations would be very similar to those that exist for other existing reproductive technologies today. It is a widespread belief within my medical community, that these regulations would remain in place were reproductive cloning to become commonplace within society. With this being said and having addressed the most common arguments against reproductive cloning, it is now time to move on to why funding for this technology should be continued.


As mentioned previously I am honored to stand before you today and give you ample reason to continue to provide funding for reproductive cloning. I find that most of my arguments lie within the sphere of Jewish tradition, but I am not Jewish myself and therefore have no reason to persuade you to agree with their beliefs. I simply use Jewish traditions and beliefs to make my argument more valid in hopes that funding will be continued. On that note, I would like to begin with an analysis of how cloning is viewed in Israel and under Jewish religious teachings. There are two main ideas that I feel are important for making my argument. First, Jewish law says that the “ex utero embryo is not regarded as comparable with an implanted embryo, and in no way is it considered equivalent to a fully fledged human being” (Prainsack 182). This is a critical point because in contrast to many of the arguments against using this technology, under Jewish law, the embryo is not considered a human. Therefore, previous arguments regarding the manipulation of human nature no longer exist as the embryo is considered nothing more than just an embryo. Second, under Jewish law it is also noted that “human beings – since they were created in God’s image – are not only entitled to but mandated to create” (Prainsack 183). This view is directly in contrast to that held by the Catholic church. Although I am not here to judge which view is correct, this view provides more opportunity to create life without restrictions, which is where my central argument lies.


To recap, what I have presented you with so far and why I am standing here today is important to why I am ultimately arguing for the continuation of funding for reproductive cloning. Following along with the beliefs under Jewish law, as a medical professional I feel it is necessary to allow human nature to create life, and create life without restriction. I am not arguing that we should allow reproductive cloning under any circumstances, but rather we should be allowed to reproduce and create life given the means we have available. Reproductive cloning is one of these means and therefore we should be able to take advantage of such technology. I must make it clear here that I am not arguing that we ignore all safety and ethical considerations and use reproductive technologies under all circumstances. Rather, I am arguing that with the given technology and given various ethical and moral considerations within society, we should be allowed to take advantage in order to create life. While some of you may be surprised to hear such a proactive stance from a medical professional, time and technology are rapidly changing. Everyday new technologies are being built and we are finding new ways to use technology to improve medical practices. With this being said, I, and many of my colleagues within the medical community, find it critical that we take advantage of the technology available to us now in order to improve upon it for the future. To put it another way, it is critical that we use the reproductive technologies available to us currently, because otherwise how will we ever make improvements? How will we advance the medical field and medical technology if we don’t ever fully comprehend the ones we have available to us now? I stand before you today and argue for the continuation of funding for reproductive cloning for just these very reasons. Reproductive cloning is a technology, that when implemented properly, has the ability to improve and enhance the creation of life. We must continue to research this technology in order to soon implement it within society and determine its effects and what can be improved upon for the future. Technology is rapidly changing the world around us, and we must keep up in order to keep advancing the medical field as well as society as a whole. The continuation of funding for reproductive cloning will only further allow us to pursue these goals and in the end will make it possible to improve upon such technology. I thank you for your time and I hope you will take into consideration the future of society when considering the continuation of funding for reproductive cloning.


Module 5: (Emma) Public Policy and the Possibilities for Being Human

The idea of a cloned me and a cloned you, is one that revels in the unrealistic CG of Sci-fi and the likes. But in the wake of modern technology and research, cloning has moved from a fictitious idea, to a reality that has changed the way medical and scientific communities answer questions. Thus is the rise of bioethics, an infant in the world of research, but a field that is quickly defining itself as a necessary wager of right and wrong. If one were to ask the laymen and women in a “typical” American community their views on cloning, one may get a response that entails a mixture of disbelief and disgust. As a matter of fact, in the global court of public opinion, the idea of cloning deems one guilty by mere thought. However, Jewish Law opposes such a verdict. Delving into the religious codes and derived laws that govern the Jewish population of Israel Breiowitz and Prainsack challenge commonly held beliefs about cloning, much of which is put forth by western ideology such as the U.S.’s President’s Council on Bioethics.

Breiowitz derives his bioethical view from a Jewish standpoint. He believes that people should not be so quick to think of cloning as morally repugnant. Although I am personally not Jewish, I found his religious/philosophical argument very compelling. Much of the Catholic arguments against cloning and reproductive technologies is a product of their interpretation of Genesis. From it, they believe that God made man exactly how He wanted man to be, and thus we should not interfere with His creations. They also argue against reproductive technology with the idea that man is inherently “playing God”, such technologies are disrespectful to human life, and that this is an abandonment of the triangular love involved in procreation. So according to  Catholic and many denominations of Christianity’s biblical interpretations, man should not disrupt the natural order and should allow God to deliver us from our problems. Here is the Jewish rebuttal: the Talmud Baba Kama interprets a verse from Exodus as permission for physicians to practice and engage in healing, and believes that we should not take a back seat to curing our ailments nor wait for the Lord to literally and physically heal us. Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik goes on to speak of this dichotomy between Adam 1 and Adam 2 in chapters 1 and 2, respectively, in the book of Genesis. Adam 1 is “majestic”, as he is created in the image of God. Rabbi Soloveitchik interprets this as permission for man to be active in effecting change on this world, being a “collaborator” with God, using the autonomy and control over the world that was bestowed upon Adam in Genesis 1. This is in direct conflict with the portrayal of Adam in Genesis chapter 2. In chapter 2 Adam is to accept a being greater than he and submit to a higher power, he is told to be content with not being the bearer of all knowledge, and is overall a less “majestic” Adam than he is said to be in chapter 1. According to Jewish belief this is where we see the paradox that the Lord wants us to be governed by. He wants man to be an active contributor to the world but also remain a humble recipient of a being greater and mightier than he.

In 2001, after an executive order by President Bush, the President’s Council on Bioethics was created in order to advise and provide a voice for ethical decisions made in relation to allowed medical research and procedures. In the President’s council we see a strong opposition for cloning for reproductive purposes, but two major groups split on the idea of stem cell research: the majority being against and the minority being for. On the other hand, Breiowitz and Prainsack put forth the benefits associated with cloning. Both Breiowitz and Prainsack combat issues brought up in the Council’s statement such as the lack of individuality a clone may feel: Breiowitz states that under Jewish law, genetics does not define the human; the mortality rate involved with the cloning process: Prainsack argues that Jewish law believes that embryos not within the uterus are not considered human and a born human life is of a higher priority than a life in development, so if one is cloning for the purposes of saving an already born human’s life, then such an argument would be invalidated; and finally, the council believes that it is “morally wrong to-destroy human life”, they also state “we find it disquieting to treat what are in fact seeds of the next generation as mere raw material for satisfying our own need” Breiowitz argues that in a land where abortion is permissible by law and is a heavily supported medical practice (the U.S.), why is cloning deemed so immoral, when in fact cloning can be the answer to a disease-ridden individual’s ailments, while abortion does not provide that same benefit. Both go on to provide arguments for and against cloning, in an almost literary debate, supporting or refuting either’s claims. One area that there is some agreeance however, is the possibility of “therapeutic” cloning, or Somatic Cell Nuclear Transfer (SCNT), which is the process of replacing an enucleated egg cell and implanting a somatic cell’s nucleus. The reason why this is less opposed is because of all the medical benefits provided, those of which could provide answers to some of the most debilitating diseases such as Parkinson’s and those in need of vital organs.

What I find interesting is how the Councilmen/women derive their definition of moral and ethical. While Breiowitz and Prainsack call on Jewish Law and religious texts, the President’s Council on Bioethics seem to have a weaker definition. The council places the word “moral” throughout their statement alluding to the idea that moral = right and not moral = wrong, but the issue is that right and wrong are just as vague of a translation of moral, as moral is of right and wrong. Their “moral”, appears to be pulled from a place of societal consensus, as in the majority of people would say that it is not right to lie, so not lying = moral, and lying = immoral. But one might say that it is right to lie if it is results in a more positive outcome for the person being lied to, for example, telling a child that their drawing of you is beautiful, when you actually believe the opposite. In this case, moral =lying (and sparing a child’s feelings) and immoral= telling the truth (and being considered a jerk). This is a minor example, but it is such an example that exemplifies the ability of the word moral to be vague and baseless when speaking without a place of derivation, thus is the difficult job of a bioethicists: defining the ethics in bioethics. For this reason, I found Breiowitz’s and Prainsack’s articles more compelling. Which text did you find most compelling? Did you find the ability of Breiowitz and Prainsack to justify cloning with the use of Jewish texts (regardless of your personal religion) more compelling or did you find the President’s Council on Bioethics’ statement on cloning, one in which religion was not used as a basis of argument, more compelling? Why?

Module 4: Kennede Miller

In module four, we continue to expand our analysis of reproductive technologies in different society’s and religious cultures. The first piece we read in module four was Magical Progeny, Modern Technology by Swasti Bhattacharyya. Bhattacharyya sets out to analyze how reproductive technology fits within Hindu ethics by analyzing the Hindu epic, the Mahabharata. Bhattacharyya discusses six things that provide the basis for Hindu society and bioethics: the centrality of society, belief in the underlying unity of all life, the responsibilities and flexibility of dharma, the diversity within Hinduism, the theory of karma, and the teachings of ahimsa. These ideas are then expanded on within the text and Bhattacharyya discusses how they are applied when dealing with reproductive technologies.

After reading this text I immediately noted a historical element to Bhattacharyya’s writing. Although she does use her experiences as a nurse to examine the six ideas of Hindu ethics, her analysis is very much rooted in a literal interpretation of the past. She examines experiences in regards to how they fit into the Mahabharata, rather than how they possibly alter or interpret those ideas differently.

The second piece we read was “Modern Technologies and Jewish Law” by Michael Broyde. Throughout his piece, Broyde discusses the technology of cloning in regards to the perspective of Jewish law. Specifically, Broyde aims to determine whether Jewish law views the practice of cloning as a good deed, a bad deed or simply a permissible activity. He comes to the conclusion, that while Jewish law does not explicitly state the practice of cloning as prohibited, it is not necessarily looked upon as the most ideal reproductive technology available. Broyde also analyzes the relationship between the cloner and their clone. I found this part of Broyde’s analysis the most interesting because of the distinction he makes between father and clone and mother and clone. The relationship between male cloner and clone is father and child, but female cloner and clone leaves the possibility open of having two respective mothers, gestational mother and genetic mother. In my opinion, although the clone and gestational mother are not genetically related, I would lean towards a mother-child relationship anyways as that is the female willing to take on the responsibility of nurture and love for the child. Would you argue that a mother-child relationship constitutes genetic similarity or love and care? I don’t think this is a question that will ever have a definite answer, but it is one that will continue to be argued in the realm of reproductive technologies as the capability to alter genes and reproduce increases.

The third and last piece we read in this module was Dr. Seeman’s chapter titled “Ethnography, Exegesis and Jewish Ethical Reflection: The New Reproductive Technologies in Israel.”  The goal of Dr. Seeman’s analysis is to differentiate Jewish and Israeli approaches to reproductive technology from Christian and Western approaches. What I found to be the most important and most interesting point of this analysis was that Dr. Seeman puts into perspective the fact that we can’t just read and interpret religious or sacred texts to their literal meaning. While yes we can determine what the religion or culture’s stance is on reproductive technology by reading these texts, we will never be able to fully determine how those interpretations are put into practice if we don’t look at the whole picture. Aside from an interpretive perspective, we must also look at ethnographic accounts in the real world. What Dr. Seeman calls the “two-pronged approach” is beneficial because it allows us to measure interpretations against real moral dilemmas. Personally, the idea of this approach made me begin to doubt the importance of the “rules” or “codes” defined in religious texts regarding reproductive technologies. While yes these rules serve as the basis for what is permitted and prohibited, if society doesn’t interpret them the way the creators or writers meant them to be interpreted, then what value do they really bring? Dr. Seeman’s approach really made me value the importance of ethnography and how the interpretations of society can really dictate how those rules are followed. If I were to visualize a balance with ethnographic accounts on one side and literal interpretations on the other, I would lean the scale in favor of ethnography, providing it with a little more emphasis.

After reading these texts, some glaring differences stuck out to me. First of all, Bhattacharyya’s book is rooted in ideas of the Mahabharata and the past. Her analysis of the six ideas of Hindu ethics are literal and her ethnographic accounts attempt to fit those ideas. In contrast, Dr. Seeman’s chapter warns against this approach of literal interpretation in favor of a two sided approach that looks at literal interpretations as well as ethnographic accounts. This approach provides for a more rounded analysis of how reproductive technologies are regarded in society and how they contribute to real moral dilemmas, rather than just analyzing how these technologies were meant to be put into practice. Broyde’s writing also contrasts that of Bhattacharyya’s because it examines reproductive technology, cloning in particular, in regards to the future. He uses Jewish law to determine a stance on cloning, while Bhattacharyya does the opposite in that she approaches ethnographic accounts in terms of the law.

While reading these three pieces, I was really forced to think of reproductive technologies in terms of the law versus in terms of society and how they interpret the laws. I think these two ideas are different and both need to be considered when analyzing reproductive technologies. I want to ask the class, would you regard the literal interpretations of the law as more important when regarding these technologies, or would you place more emphasis on how society interprets them? In my opinion, I think both drastically effect how reproductive technologies are regarded within society, and the greater the disconnect between the two, literal interpretation and society’s interpretation, the greater controversy that arises. All three of these texts added to my understanding of reproductive technologies within different religious cultures, and I hope in following classes we can continue to expand upon these differences.

Module 4: Alana Redden

In this week’s readings we ventured outside the realm of Christianity and Judaism to include a Hindu approach to bioethics and reproductive technology. Focusing on the topics of IVF, surrogacy and cloning, the three works provided a multicultural perspective that considered the roles of sacred texts, spiritual traditions and historical narratives in the treatment of reproductive technologies. This is vital to understanding how and why people take varied strategies to reach their goal of having one or many children.

Swatsi Bhattacharyya opens her book Magical Progeny, Modern Technology by exploring the relationship between religion, medicine and bioethics in the academy and medical profession. Bhattacharyya then shifts to the narratives within the Mahābhārata that focus on three queens’ – Kuntī, Mādrī, and Gāndhārī – struggles with infertility. As she states on page 39, “[T]he epic does reflect a shared experience in the struggle against infertility and a shared attitude of openness and creativity towards procreation…Today, the creativity is expressed through various forms of reproductive technology.” She identifies four relevant topics to current conversations about reproductive technology: desirability of progeny; creativity and conception; women and the control of procreation; gods, humans and procreation. Bhattacharyya continues on to identify characteristics of Hindu thought – centrality of society, underlying unity of life, dharma, karma and ahimsā – and applies them to the use of IVF and surrogacy. Given that Hindu philosophy is not monolithic, Bhattacharyya examines the case of Jaycee Buzzanca from a multitude of lenses.

This book elucidates some of the the ways in which magic, divinity and fertility are intricately intertwined. As stated on page 42, “Wheres these myths in the Mahāhbārata counter interfiltiy with the magic and power from the realm of the divine, modern medicine combats infertility with scientific knowledge.” I want to ask the class if they agree: are magic and divinity separate from scientific technology? Would you argue that scientific technology is a contemporary manifestation of magical fertility, or is it void of any divinity? Why or why not?

In the second piece we read, “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law,” Michael Boyde analyzes new cloning technology from the perspective of Jewish law. He considers the kinship relationships and asserts that a genetic male donor would hold the status of a father, and the gestational carrier would hold the status of the clone’s mother. The argument of a sibling relationship does not hold up because the genetic donor and the clone are not born from the same womb. Do people agree? Logically I understand the reasons why it is not a sibling relationship, but viscerally it does not feel like a parent-child relationship to me. Although cloning is not the ideal form of procreation, it is considered to be a mitzvah – good deed – if the genetic donor is a Jewish man and the clone is born from a Jewish womb. One of Boyde’s central points is that the clone is due fundamental human dignity and value; it is not a lesser being subject to experimentation or degradation. Boyde cautions to be cognizant of Jewish law as cloning science progresses in an effort to maintain its status as a mitzvah.

The last piece we read was Professor Seeman’s chapter “Ethnography, Exegesis, and Jewish Ethical Reflection: The New Reproductive Technologies in Israel.” Similarly to Bhattacharyya, Professor Seeman identifies the necessity of cultural consideration and understanding when looking at reproductive bioethics. For example, Jewish and Christian bioethicists’ may both be grounded in the Bible, but Jewish bioethicists may seek legal prohibitions in Leviticus whereas Christian bioethicists may seek narrative in Genesis. Professor Seeman continues on to call attention to the ways in which academy-driven discourse can ignore the real life implications and stakeholders of reproductive technologies. These stakes vary depending on geographic location, gender, economic status, etc. One way to produce more grounded, comprehensive understanding of these practices and the related bioethical issues is through ethnographic research. I wonder if

In looking at these texts more broadly, it is clear that Bhattacharya and Broyde took different approaches to reproductive technology. Bhattacharya’s book was grounded in history, oral tradition, and spirituality. Conversely, Broyde’s argument was grounded in law, status and kinship. If we were to look at the emergence of reproductive technology on a linear map, I feel as though Bhattacharya attends more to its relationship to the past whereas Broyde attends to its relationship to the future. Bhattacharya draws parallels between the ancient gods and goddesses and discusses the creativity, divinity and magic of non-normative procreation. Broyde, on the other hand, examines whether or not future cloning practices would fall in accordance with Jewish law. I wonder which approach resonated more with the class? I was fascinated by Bhattacharya’s account because it offered a spiritual grounding for a highly scientific process.

I think these differences are due both to cultural and methodological differences. In fact, I believe these two are oftentimes intertwined. For example, Broyde’s perspective was informed by Jewish law. This created an argument that was both practical and grounded. Bhattacharya could not have done that, though, because there is no such thing as monolithic Hindu law. Hinduism is a conglomeration of different spiritual and religious practices, and therefore Bhattacharya could not make definitive claims in the same way Broyde did. I think culture often times informs methodology, and therefore cross-cultural analysis and/or comparison will almost always differ due to both factors.

Both Bhattacharya and Broyde’s works exemplified some of Dr. Seeman’s main takeaways about cultural consideration. Jewish and Hindu bioethicists approach the issue of reproductive technology differently due to respectively different lived experiences. Jews believe in one God while Hinduism believes in many gods. Jews have clearly identified Jewish law whereas Hinduism does not. Hindu and Jewish geographic location, population demographics and cultural history are considerably different. These differences are many, but still, both groups of people grapple with the same issues around reproductive technology and have come to similar levels of acceptance.

Module 2- Don Seeman. How to Read Anthropological (and other) Texts

Dear Student Colleagues,

I hope you have been enjoying our course so far! I have been eagerly reading your blog posts and responses and wanted to take a few moments to address something– how we read the sorts of texts we are encountering this semester, which may  be new to some of you.

The first rule, I think, in approaching any sort of text is to begin by asking yourself some basic questions: who is the author and what methodologies are being used? What basic claims is the author making? Are the methods invoked the right ones to answer these questions? Who is the intended audience? Is there a political or other agenda of which readers should be aware? Did the author actually succeed in doing what they set out to do?

Now, it is really important to read carefully and be alert to details, including possible contradictions. For example, in module 1, several of you wrote that you appreciated Marcia Inhorn’s argument about avoiding stereotypes of Muslim men, especially in the post 9/11 period. This is certainly on its own an important and legitimate argument to make.  But did she really present any evidence that the specific kind of data she was collecting could serve as a response to any widespread stereotypes? What was the relation between her stated political goals and the anthropological argument she was making? Does it complicate her argument in any way that she actually identifies some of the people she was writing about as supporters of Hezbollah, a well-known terror organization according to the US State Department? is she therefore saying that support for a terror organization is outweighed by stated concern for one’s wife? I am not asking this question is order to suggest that her argument is necessarily wrong, but simply to point out  that this is the kind of critical question one ought to ask in approaching a work of this nature.

This week, we are reading Susan Kahn’s book “Reproducing Jews.” I have already pointed out some errors in one of this week’s blog posts which were not noted by others who commented on the blogs. Kahn does NOT for example suggest that use of IVF is illicit according to Orthodox Judaism or rabbinic opinion. Rather, she explains that the rabbis in question require certain kinship rules to be respected when this technology is used, and this leads to interesting political alliances between unlikely partners. Historical traumas and desire to increase the population may be part of this dynamic  but they are by no means the determinative factors according to Kahn.

If these things were not clear, you need to go back and reread those chapters. Is this rabbinic approach more similar to that of Donum Vitae or to the approach of Shiite clerics in Marcia Inhorn’s article? How would you explain those similarities or dissimilarities? These are the kinds of questions I would like you to begin asking.

All texts require patience and care but this may be especially true of ethnographic texts. If you are used to the author simply telling you the argument up front, you need to take a more relaxed attitude and take your time– the evidence in ethnographic texts tends to be presented in more extended, narrative form–and, you need to be careful that the ethnography actually supports what the anthropologist says it does!

I know that we are doing a lot of reading in a short period of time during summer semester but please, take your time and go through the readings carefully. You will benefit from the results!

With very best wishes,

Don Seeman

Module 1 (Jessica Ambroise) Can we trust anthropological work?

This module’s focus on culture interrogates the way in which an outsider’s perspective may be inherently flawed. Inhorn’s work centers Shi’ite Muslim husbands in the Middle East and their ‘’haram” or morally unacceptable decision to utilize in vitro fertilization (IVF). McKinnon’s piece surveys the diverse employment of kinship in various countries across the globe, highlighting that Eurocentric models of family should not be glorified.  Like Geertz, through his call for “thick description,” both Inhorn and McKinnon stress the importance of cultural relativism in their critiques of populations. It was very interesting to learn how the meaning of “mother” has a different meaning almost everywhere outside of the “Anglo-American” system. Surely, having two mothers seems better than one. I am curious to understand why a culture of interdependence is so absent from our society.  Why does biology and genetic makeup matter so much in the U.S? Who made it this way?


Moreover, while Inhorn and McKinnon articulate how definitions of kinship vary by people and place, there is not much said about: 1. why it is easy to and 2. why we are taught to, for example, see Middle Eastern men as “savage terrorists and religious zealots.” I am worried about how explicitly issues of race, sex, gender, etc. are dealt with in such anthropological studies. Inhorn’s piece addresses some of these issues within the context of Middle Eastern societies, however; she fails to critically do so in a U.S. one. McKinnon, while she refers to ethnocentrism, does not go in depth about the various aspects of ethnocentrism and how it informs our views on race, sex, gender, etc.  Although explaining these aspects might have been rudimentary or tangential to the readings, they could help readers recognize notions that affect their ability to see people impartially. Can we effectively critique our ethnocentric gaze on different cultures without nuanced emphasis of these multidimensional status markers? Or would doing that be unnecessary?


Furthermore, the fact that they (McKinnon and Inhorn) had to spend so much time justifying the non-normative (to the Western eye) lifestyles of people of color to not only provide context, but humanize them is interesting. Inhorn’s decision to humanize Muslim men by showing how they choose IVF (a procedure more accepted in the U.S.) despite social standards, seemingly affirms the notion that Western ideas are supreme. Are we only able to see the humanity in others when they do things we are taught to support? Why should we understand one’s beliefs according to his/her culture? Can we not make room in our own cultures to accept others’ beliefs based on our own? Does cultural relativism require us to tolerate other’s cultures rather than accept or support them? Frankly, I am not sure if these questions even make sense.


Nonetheless, I appreciated Shapiro’s bold critique of McKinnon’s work. By highlighting the flaws and inadequacies in her arguments, it reminded me to be cautious when reading anthropological works. Shapiro argues, for example, that McKinnon was wrong in her interpretation of the family structures of various groups, including the Wari Indians.

After reading that, although he provided cited information, I thought—how could we ever know what is true? How often are people from the groups that anthropologists study able to talk about themselves? In the case of poorer communities with little to no access to academia, I would imagine that they rarely get the chance to speak for themselves. With these ideas in mind, I wonder about the ethical responsibility of anthropologists who do field research. Are there people who ensure that they tell stories that people of the groups they survey want to be told? Lastly, how useful is it to reveal the lives of a relatively obscure groups of people? I think it is important to also stress the individuality of people from studied populations. When researchers get caught up in trying to make sweeping observations on a large group, they are likely to overlook people who are different. Subsequently, many readers may be inclined to make harmful assumptions that enforce stereotypes.


Can we trust anthropological work?