Dear People of the Congress,
I am here today in support of various reproductive technologies such as adoption and gamete donation. As a medical anthropologist, I am extremely invested in the opinions held and stigma surrounding the use of technology in a medical and reproductive setting. A main goal in the field of anthropology that lives close to my heart is the goal and mission to, “Make the strange familiar, and the familiar strange.” With this idea in mind, my goal here today is to familiarize the people of the Congress with the facts about reproductive technology and to dispel any myths stemming from miscommunication and miseducation.
First, a conversation about kinship is necessary to start with. Susan McKinnon, in her article “On Kinship and Marriage: A Critique of the Genetic and Gender Calculus of Evolutionary Psychology,” expresses the importance of defining these terms saying, “Systems of kinship terminology are important to consider not only because they reveal the differences in the organization of kinship relations cross-culturally but also because they constitute the categorical framework upon which distinct patterns of social behavior-including acts of nurturance, solidarity, and resource allocation-are built” (McKinnon, 110). While this idea might be controversial among experts in the field (social anthropologist and author of “What Human Kinship is Primarily About: Towards a Critique of the New Kinship Studies” Warren Shapiro argues that anthropologists rely too heavily on terminology), I feel it necessary to establish a solid set of definitions, so that all members of the Congress are on the same page and can continue accordingly. Kinship, then, is set by a feeling of relatedness, regardless of actual genetics. In my own understanding, there are three levels of kinship in today’s world. The first, and probably most obvious, understanding shows genetic relatedness. An example of this first type is a child, otherwise known as “next of kin.” According to very early anthropologists, this type of kinship relationship is termed consanguineal (which literally means related by blood) kinship. The second known level of kinship defines personal choice, of affinal kinship. This type of kinship is usually used to describe spouses. This is an interesting idea because this kind of kin, a pair of spouses, joins together and creates the first kind of kin we discussed, or a child. Finally, the last level of kin in my analysis is based on legal or cultural definitions. An example of this last category is in the case of a blended family, or that one “uncle” who is not really your biological uncle but actually your genetic father’s best friend from college. Along with this idea is that quote about friends being the family that you choose, which plays to the meaningful side of kinship. Early anthropologists called this type of kinship fictive kinship, as a sort of catch-all category for the more complicated relationships that do not fit neatly into the other categories.
Of course, these “definitions” are not always as clear cut as described above. For example, Marcia Inhorn in Medical Anthropology Quarterly explores some of these “blurry lines” regarding adoption and gamete donation in an article entitled “He Won’t Be My Son.” Inhorn discusses what is described as the local moral world, or “the commitments of social participants in a local world about what is at stake in everyday experience” (Inhorn, 96). Inhorn starts by explaining the cultural relevance of the Muslim world in Lebanon, which is a crucial step when setting the scene in anthropological research and writing. She states the choice of many Muslim men to continue their infertile marriage, even with present procedures that can lead to “social parenthood” (Inhorn, 95). This term is especially interesting, and makes a point in the debate related to the funding of these reproductive technologies. My interpretation and understanding, related to my argument, of this word phrasing is that of the close-ness that can be achieved between parent and child, even if not genetically related. In other words, does a social parent have less responsibility over their child than a biological parent? Are not the feelings and emotions expressed to this child the same between situations? I, as a medical anthropologist, am arguing in favor of the continuation of the set funding for reproductive technologies such as adoption and gamete donation based on this, among others, reasons.
The next important aspect to consider in favor of the use of technology in relation to reproductive techniques such as adoption and gamete donation is religion and moral beliefs. Also in “He Won’t Be My Son,” author Inhorn discusses the idea of “purity of lineage” and its close relation to religious views and marital happiness (Inhorn, 95). Speaking of religion, the relationship between religious and morals to that of ethical decisions surrounding reproductive technology can be quite complicated. Inhorn states this idea well, saying, “Local moralities are perhaps best exposed when new health technologies confront deeply embedded religious and ethical traditions. Such traditions may embrace new biotechnologies, but prohibit aspects of those technologies that do not meet with religious moralities” (Inhorn, 96). In other words, when push comes to shove, there comes a time to put your money where your mouth is and take action. It is easy to be faithful to a certain sect of a particular religion, but when that morals are tested, the person and their beliefs are also tested. An interesting distinction that Inhorn made, then, in approaches surrounding these varying religious beliefs include both the Sunni and Shi’ite populations. These religious opinions are vastly different from that of our Western world, however, and this idea must be considered. In Sunni Islam, Inhorn explained, what is called a “donor child” is considered “illegitimate,” while the implementation of another adult in the creation of a child (for example, gamete donation) falls under the sin of adultery (Inhorn, 103). Shifting to the idea of adoption, the majority of the Shi’ite Islam population’s responses used in Inhorn’s work rejected the idea of raising another child (through adoption) as their own (Inhorn, 103). Although the main argument against these technologies is as a result of the idea that resulting child “won’t be my son,” Muslim men are still considering and thus spearheading the movement and shifting of these long-held ideals. Inhorn states, “Religious moralities in the Muslim world can be seen as processual and shifting in response to the new developments in science and technology that are rapidly globalizing to the 22 nations of the Muslim Middle East” (Inhorn, 97). For this reason, continued funding towards the progression of reproductive technologies such as adoption and gamete donation is crucial, especially in non-Western settings as ideals continue to change and adapt.
In terms of my own personal opinion as a medical anthropologist, I have strong feelings towards the continuation of funding towards that of the reproductive technologies of adoption and gamete donation. Regardless of strict religious beliefs against the use of these technologies, the option, in my opinion, must continue to be offered. Based on Marcia Inhorn’s analysis of the Muslim world and the ideas held about adoption and gamete donation, which she claims are changing as quickly now as ever, is will not be long before the ideas held in favor of these technologies by the minority population will become the majority. As this article was published in Medical Anthropology Quarterly over 10 years ago in 2006, these ideals might have already gone over a complete and drastic transformation.
In the field of medical anthropology, an important ideal that is regularly discussed is the idea of cultural competence, or the practice of consulting other populations, cultures, religions, etc. in relation to differing beliefs about various subjects. By consulting Inhorn’s discussion of the status of the Muslim world, we, in a Western society, can gain a look into another culture that also experiences the struggles associated with fertility. Also, it is important to keep in mind during these religious debates the common goal of all reproductive technologies: reproduction. In all of the ethical and moral debates, there is a family that is looking to make an addition, whether that be a couple that has been trying to have children with no success for years, or a widowed older woman looking to regain a familial element. All of these cases are valid in searching for the completion of their family, no matter the cost. As discussed by Inhorn in her article in her definition of local moral world mentioned earlier in my argument, the importance in these debates lies with what is at stake for each population and each case. As with most cases in bioethics and ethics in general, these situations of the use of reproductive technologies are better suited to be evaluated and discussed on a personal, case by case basis, so that the overall goal of the creation of a child is not lost. By being able to put a face to the name and a name to the testimony, as Inhorn does in her hard-hitting and shocking article, this importance is realized and emphasized. In conclusion, by choosing to continue the funding of reproductive technologies such as adoption and gamete donation, as I decided to support for the reasons listed above, these families can become complete and dreams can be made a reality.
Families of the Future
Inhorn, Marcia C. ““He Won’t Be My Son”” Medical Anthropology Quarterly, vol. 20, no. 1, 2006, pp. 94–120.
McKinnon, Susan. “On Kinship and Marriage: A Critique of the Genetic and Gender Calculus of Evolutionary Psychology” Complexities: Beyond nature and Nurture, 2005, pp. 106-131.