Today I, anthropologist Dr. Wells, have been summoned before Congress to attest to the benefits of continuing funding for in-vitro fertilization. This testimony specifically advocates for government funding and legalization of in-vitro fertilization in India for mothers who are unable to conceive. I testify in favor of Indian mothers to receive small grants for in-vitro fertilization procedures, including sperm and egg donation. I make this case in order to maximize reproductive success for Indians, to take advantage of the lack of religious restraints for reproduction per the openness of Hinduism, and to counter the lack of adequate healthcare in Indian ethnography. The in-vitro fertilization (IVF) process includes healthcare by an appointed physician before, during and after pregnancy occurs. In India, healthcare funding is nearly non-existent and is not accessible by the majority of Indians. By offering government funded IVF, the Indian government will also offer its citizens a healthy alternative to natural pregnancy, as well as an alternative to women who would like to bear children without remaining in a patriarchal household. In India, many men govern everything about the household, except for childcare, cooking and cleaning. Legalized and funded IVF in India can offer healthier pregnancies and lower child mortality rates, which are approximately 43 deaths per 1000 births. This is comparable to the country of Israel, which offers only 4 deaths per 1000 live births, largely due to its governmental embrace of IVF for its citizens, and the subsequent healthcare for pregnancies it includes.
A huge example of the cultural interpretations of women who use IVF is Susan Martha Kahn’s anthropologist perspective in Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel. Within this book, Kahn embraces ethnographic conversations about IVF with women in New York City. She conducts research with anecdotes on conversations with women, patient interviews, and participant observation between clients and genetic counselors. After being genetically tested, these women were able to choose what they would like to do next concerning pregnancy, an option not afforded to many Indian women. Kahn introduces the snowball methodology in her work, which embraces using a subject interview to determine who to speak to next for anthropologic research purposes. Kahn’s writing is descriptive and follows an implicit comparative agenda to focus on how IVF use in the country f Israel differs from the use of IVF in the States. Naturally, many women in the United States use IVF primarily to conceive without the attachment of a male partner, thus promoting personal autonomy more, as opposed to correcting the inability to conceive naturally. In Israel, the use of IVF maintains the cultural component of bioethics, by ensuring that Israeli morality of enabling the joy of reproduction to each citizen is granted. The morale of offering funded IVF in Israel likely stems from the culturally constructed value that one must act in beneficence for the people. This has positively influenced the child mortality rate in Israel in the past decade (World Bank Group). This decision also enhances the communal experiences for Israeli people of flourishing reproductively. Kahn’s audience is for American anthropologists such as myself, so I am qualified to make these conclusions based on her anecdotal evidence.
Another source, Swasti Bhattacharya, confirms the ability of IVF to transcend the cultural and religious borders of Hinduism by using the Mahabharata as an ethical guide for her readers. As described per Bhattacharya, Hinduism is a religion that is open to the reproductive assistance of IVF. Bhattacharya has described the decision for one to engage in reproductive technology as an initiation of dharma in Hindu culture, and that by doing so one also assumes full responsibility for the actions associated with IVF in the form of karma. Bhattacharya also describes choosing a divine sperm donor over a human sperm donor in order to maintain traditional Hindu beliefs while still fulfilling one’s reproductive duty. In Hinduism, Dharma is both the god of merit and the cosmic judge and deems that Hindus may do as they please with reproductive decisions while remaining religiously faithful. Given that Hinduism is largely the most practiced religion in India, these words from Bhattacharya hold weight for Indian women who are interested in IVF and any potential cultural or religious offenses that could occur as a result of partaking in such.
I realize that all of these sources thus far have been from women and may appear biased in nature to a jury or Congressional member, so I am using words from Warren Shapiro’s book Social Anthropology in closing. Shapiro delivers a strong argument for his readers to understand the evolutionary principles behind reproduction. The embracement of procedures like IVF are meant for its users to maximize their reproductive success, which we as humans must do, or otherwise have our genes die out. Lowering the child mortality rate in India, creating healthier pregnancies, and offering reproduction to those who cannot conceive naturally are all characteristics of maximizing one’s reproductive success. This need is hardwired in every organism according to Shapiro, and a nation’s reproductive success begins with its individual citizens and their reproductive rights. This ideology presented by Shapiro prioritizes the cultural and biological aspects of reproduction and focuses on the actions associated with reproduction over the language used to describe it. For example, the person that is presented as one’s ‘son’ may or may not have a consanguineal kinship connection to him/her. In fact, this relation may be affinal, as a step-son from a previous relationship, or fictive as in an adopted son with no blood relation. For Shapiro, Bhattacharya, and Kahn alike, the rules of reproduction are flexible and conforming to an individual’s cultural and biological needs.
In conclusion, by enabling Indian citizens to have access to government funded IVF procedures, the government is ensuring a healthier, more reproductively successful future for its country, and faces no cultural or religious persecution for offering such services. Beneficence for the Indian people and a comparison to the country of Israel, which has legalized IVF should speak volumes to the possibilities for Indian people to grow as a nation by allowing this change.
Bhattacharya, Swasti. Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Reproductive Technology (Suny University Press, 2006).
Kahn, Susan Martha. Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel (Duke University Press, 2000).
Shapiro, Warren. “What Human Kinship is Primarily About: Towards a Critique of the New Kinship Studies.” Social Anthropology (2008) 16: 137-153. E-reserves
World Bank Group, https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.DYN.MORT Mortality rate, under 5 (per 1000 live births)