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.

4 Replies to “Module 4: Kennede Miller”

  1. Your analyses and questions about the two texts really helped me make sense of some complex concepts. The way that Bhattacharyya frames her discussion of assistive reproductive technologies within the context of the rich diversity of Hinduism is helpful to understand that we cannot make general assumptions about the beliefs of a person of any religion. This idea helped me when reading Broyde’s writing about Jewish law and cloning. While Jewish law looks down upon cloning but doesn’t prohibit it, I think about how within a religion, each person has his or her own opinion. Although there are rules, not all Jews follow them in the same way. We can’t say that “Jews say ___” or “Hindus say ___,” because each person has an individual way to interpret his/her belief.
    In terms of the historical element of Bhattacharyya’s writing, I do wonder, though, if she is rooting her analysis in a literal interpretation of the past. I see her use of the Mahabharata as more of a shared value rather than a literal recount that tells tales of the past. There is definitely a historical element to the book, but she explains that the narratives are timeless and although were created long ago, are still interpreted in many ways today.

  2. Hi Kennede,
    Thanks for this. I guess I am a little unsure what you mean by “the literal meaning of the texts” vs “how societies interpret them.” Is there any such thing as a literal meaning other than how some particular group of readers interprets? Where have you seen this distinction in class readings? That would be a good thing to try to clarify for today’s class.

  3. Great job at pulling the important aspects of the texts out and comparing and contrasting these main ideas.
    As for your question, I will say, although for example Broyde’s piece spends a bulk of the time putting different scenarios into an equation defined by Jewish law, which helped me view religion and science in a more convergent point of view, and the idea that there is empirical aspects to religious codes, his analysis almost became mechanical. He argues against the idea of clone and clonor being siblings because they do not derive from the same womb, and the idea that a man who donates his genes will always be the father but a woman who donates her genes will not always be the mother, because of Jewish law. In a sense I felt that the derivations for his argument were boxed into the fine print, I do not know if laws and rules can cover all bases as he appeared to do in his piece. I wonder if in the same way laws of physics are broken and physicists are left scratching their heads, is it possible that within the Jewish community, it would be accepted if Jewish law was not applicable to some scenarios, and could not explain the reason for every kinship definition and relationship? Would that cause doubt amongst citizens who trust their leaders to derive these laws, or would a more “magical” explanation as with Bhattacharyya’s text be accepted. And on the opposing end, I agree that Bhattacharyya centralizes her argument on the Hindu perspective on the Mahabharata’s scripture which entails this magical and spiritually rooted theme. One appears more scientific and the other appears more perplexed on the aspects of spirituality. So I would say a merge of the two would give more light to the flaws in both’s arguments: While I think Broyde’s plug and chug method helped me understand the derivation of reasoning of Jewish law, it left me with little about the spiritual or ecclesiastical derivations and while Bhattacharyya gave a lot of allusion to the Mahabharata, more interpretation rather than magic and spirituality would be beneficial. I will say though she does use some empirical evidence for her argument like the case study for example, but more case studies and researches would be catapult her argument into a more balanced one.

  4. Thank you Kennede! I think you did a great job of synthesizing the information. To answer your question about mother-child relationships, I agree with your idea that a mother is someone who takes on the responsibility of raising a child. I don’t know, I guess I see the role of mother as something that is so highly celebrated and respected that caring for a child throughout its life seems more important than being relevant for a small period. To your question of whether literal interpretations of the law are more important than societal interpretation, it’s hard for me separate these ideas. I think that society often interprets things literally and that such literal interpretations can be problematic for people, yet understandable. I think that through different societal interpretations—people may find ways to make things apply to themselves and their individualized lives. This idea sounds very appealing to me because I think it could save people from the sort of internal turmoil that comes with dealing with so many ethical dilemmas. Interesting!

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