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.

5 Replies to “Module 4: Alana Redden”

  1. Hi Alana, Thanks for this!
    I appreciated the distinctions you drew between Battacharya and Broyde’s work. Do you have the sense that these differences are due to differences between Judaism and Hinduism or simply due to the different nature of these scholars’ training and interests?

  2. Firstly, your analysis of all the readings was so thoroughly thought out and you made connections that bridged the gap very well between the different works, which I think is fundamental to understanding how reproductive technology and the realms within which it is studied are related.
    I also personally found Bhattacharyya’s view and fusion of Hinduism, magic, bioethics, and experience as a medical professional to be a fascinating display of the ways in which yet another culture (which as you stated is not monolithic) practices and derives their authority to engage in these technologies. The Mahabharata in her book is used in a similar sense as Genesis is used in Donum Vitae, where an ancient scripture is used as a guide for the moral allowances of the future. As for your question on whether scientific technology is a manifestation of magical fertility I would not be able to give a personal definitive answer, but I will say that once again, as Dr. Seeman highlights in “The new Reproductive Technologies of Israel”, such a question contains multiple answers when viewed through the bioethical approach of “interpretive paradigms”. A Christian woman with infertility issues may engage in intensive prayer and plead for God to bless them with a child, and later be presented with the option of IVF and feel as though God answered her prayers with the technological capabilities of IVF, thus the answer to your question from her perspecitve, religious belief, personal circumstance, and all other contributants that affect the lens in which she looks at this offer, would be yes, modern technology is a manifestation of ancient beliefs of magical fertility. You may then go on to ask the same question to a woman with no fertility issues, who does not come from a background of strong faith and her answer may be no, there is no such thing as magical fertility, technology is here because man made it. So overall I would say I cannot officially declare such a claim as having one right answer.
    Onto Broyde’s piece. For many cloning is such a contoversial and almost mythical concept. And I was pleased that Broyde took the time to put it into empirical format and provided the science behind the “myth”. His breakdown of Jewish law and what defines a mother, father, sibling, etc. was very intriguing because I began to view Jewish law in a more empirical and mathematical sense: if x + x = y, the x+y must = x, from this I can see how one would work out the Jewish law perspective of a multitude of different scenarios, as exists in every day life.

  3. Hi! Your post is really insightful and you did make excellent connections! In terms of your question about whether magic and divinity are separate from scientific technology, I believe that Bhattacharyya is arguing that they are not, in fact, so separate. She discusses the marginalization and division between religion and the academy in depth in Chapter 1, and explains that it is a major issue that some doctors and scientists focus solely on science and ignore the cultural context of the patient. Professionals must have cultural competency, or the ability to be aware and sensitive to cultural differences and hold back on their own biases. The dichotomy between science and religion is useful for scientists in making the scientific world more black and white, but each person is influenced by culture, and to disregard this would be ignorant. Religious symbolism is useful for people to understand the world, including medical issues, which is why doctors must engage in cultural competency, in order to give patients the quality of care they deserve.

  4. I love your approach to unpacking and at the same time summarizing each reading. It comes from what seems like an unbiased standpoint where you are essentially just stating the facts of what these authors believe. The question that you put forward to the class had me thinking. I do believe that science technology is completely separate and apart divinity ( or magic.) However I do believe that divinity somehow does influence this type of technology (not the functioning of it, but the fate that comes from it.) This is coming from a religious perspective. I believe that there is something beyond us as humans, and our ‘creation’ that still influence what things happen. I do believe that the author, Bhattacharyya, would agree that there is a stark difference between the two. Religion and science are seen as two separate entities, however I am not sure if she would go to the extent of saying if one overtly influences the other.

  5. Thank you, Alana! This was wonderful. I find it interesting how, as pointed out by Professor Seeman, Boyde and Bhattacharrya, Judaism and Hinduism grasp with issues of infertility. It is very clear that issues of infertility have been important for centuries and continue to boggle our minds as new technologies are developed. To answer your question of whether “magic and divinity {are} separate from scientific technology,” I’d have to say that I don’t think so. I think there is something magical about the ways in which we have been able to develop technologies that can give life to a child who, in the case of infertile women, otherwise would not have been born. In a sense, we have redefined the idea of infertility; one cannot assume that because someone is infertile means that he or she cannot create a biological child. To your question on Boyde’s piece regarding kinship relationships, I think it depends. I definitely agree with your idea that this setup does not look like a parent-child relationship—but we might have to challenge our idea of what that “should” look like. In many ways, and more so in certain cultures, parents and siblings have the same roles. When it comes to parenthood, I lean more towards the idea of parents being those who provide care rather than gametes—so that stands for cloning.

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