Final Blog – Emmerynn Wheelan

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.

Blog 2 – Emmerynn Wheelan

In the readings assigned for this module, we see two varying approaches to reproductive technologies. Bhattacharya’s approach to reproductive technology in the academy, the clinical setting, and in public policy includes a reliance on the six elements of Hinduism. Bhattacharya’s ideas about the fluidity of Hindu thought and the notion that are people are interconnected translate into ideas about bioethics. Broyde’s approach to reproductive technology, then, provides an emphasis on law, which is noted with the inclusion of “Jewish Law” in the title.

As we discussed in class, there are two sides to the coin of bioethics. Modern bioethics serves as a way to make a decision, regardless of the character of the person(s) involved. Virtue ethics, then, is centered around character building to better equip the person to make those decisions instinctively. Based on the two readings, Bhattacharya’s text is reminiscent of virtue ethics, and Broyde of that of modern bioethics. Bhattacharya quotes Jonsen and Toulmin saying, “moral knowledge is essentially particular, so that sound resolutions of moral problems must always be rooted in a concrete understanding of specific cases and circumstances” (104), which leads me to associate her ideology with that of virtue ethics. Broyde’s emphasis on evaluations on a case-by-case basis stressed on the first page of his chapter (295) associates him with that of modern bioethics present today.

In terms of the differences between the approaches, many things contribute to the specific values held by a person of a particular religion or sect. Perspective is shaped by various environmental factors and obstacles faced over time. I am hesitant to state that these differences can be attributed solely to differences between religion, as variance in opinion and interpretation are present even in the same religion or sect. Even so, religion is a large part of culture, which I think does a better job of accounting for these differences in ideology. To quote Bhattacharya, “This ability to hold and be comfortable with differing accounts and interpretations of God, of Brahman, translates into different accounts and interpretations of particular situations” (102). Because of this, my belief is that the specific methodology of each author definitely plays a big role in the differences present. For example, Michael Broyde’s area of interest is law, with some religion mixed in as well. Swasti Bhattacharya, on the other hand, is a Gender and Woman Studies professor, and works with the American Academy of Religion. While these backgrounds can overlap on some concepts, such as religious law and reproductive technology, the responses will be as varied as the backgrounds of the authors.

If presented with the ethical dilemmas from last module, I believe that Broyde would stress the importance of analyzation on a case by case bias, based on his comment on the first page of his chapter (295). From a previous bioethics class, I know that this is the main methodology of many bioethicists, who are hesitant to make generalizations. For example, if a family already has a child with a genetic disorder that can be screened for and does not feel that they would be able to properly care for another, I feel that Broyde would be in favor of genetic testing, in this scenario. His answer could change, however, in others. In his section entitled “The Slippery Slope and the Denigration of Human Beings”, Broyde emphasizes the importance of each human person created “in the image of God” (312). In the conclusion section, Broyde presents the idea that a person must fully understand the consequences before committing an act, but also admits that the avoid said act “permanently” is also not ideal (316). Based on these statements, I would imagine that the author Broyde would want a couple considering genetic testing to fully educate themselves on the topic. As we watched in the film The Burden of Knowledge, many couples were not fully educated about the topic or held some misconception about the procedure and results.

Battacharya, on the other hand, might have a different response. When we discussed the Hindu value of ahimsa in class, I immediately thought of the bioethical terms beneficence and non-maleficence. Non-maleficence, specifically, means to do no harm, which can be interpreted in a multitude of ways. Is the physical process of genetic testing considered doing harm, because of the increased risk of miscarriage? Is bringing a child into this world with a disorder unknown before giving birth considered doing harm? Both of these questions depend on the interpretation of the value of ahimsa. Along with ahimsa, there are five other values that Battacharya stresses in the beginning of chapter four (63). Similar to Broyde, I also think that Battachrya would feel it necessary to examine the situation from all vantage points, based on this line from the conclusion section, “We gain a richer understanding of moral questions and a better grasp on answers when we examine bioethical issues from the vantage point of several different perspectives” (99). Because of her emphasis on the six elements of Hindu thoughts, I believe that Battacharya would emphasize the importance of the second element, or the underlying unity of all life. While these are only speculations, moral dilemmas such as these are difficult to predict.



Michael J. Broyde, “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law,” In Michael J. Broyde and Michael Ausubel editors, Marriage, Sex and the Family in Judaism. (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005), pp. 295-328.

Swasti Bhattacharya, Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Reproductive Technology (Suny University Press, 2006).

Blog 1 – Emmerynn Wheelan

In the first two chapters of Genesis, ideas of kinship of human reproduction are mentioned and explored. In the first chapter, God tells the humans to, “be fruitful and multiply,” (Gn 1:28) and that they will have dominion over all the earth. This command is fulfilled in the ideals of a traditional marriage, including the goal of procreation, which is mentioned in Professor Seeman’s article on reproductive technologies in Israel. In the second chapter of Genesis, God creates a woman from the rib of the man after being unable to find him a suitable partner in the animals already created. The man says, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken” (Gn 2:23). These quotes provide a very interesting idea of kinship, that a man and woman united and marriage become one flesh with an inseparable bond. From this account, affinal kinship (that of a man and woman bonded through marriage) is very highly valued.

The Christian use of the book of Genesis explains the seemingly strict views on procreation that is mentioned above. A Jewish interpretation of the book of Genesis, then, looks more towards a literal and legal translation. Also in Professor Seeman’s article on reproductive technologies in Israel, he states, “Unlike Jewish writers, Catholic and Protestant writers who use the Bible tend to focus on what can be derived from narrative rather than legal portions of the biblical text” (Seeman 348). This is an interesting contrast because as mentioned earlier, the first two chapters of the book of Genesis focus on the affinal relationship between a man and woman. This concept intertwines the legal interpretations customary in Jewish culture in that the man and woman are not related through genetics but are still considered kin, while also relying on the narrative of the creation of man and woman prevalent in Christian values. In my understanding, a Jewish viewing of Genesis focuses on the limiting nature of these chapters, while a Christian interpretation is more open-ended (Seeman 349). Besides varying readings of the book of Genesis, varying life experiences and values may account for different interpretations of the same book.

In an ethnographic approach compared to an approach based on the reading of religious texts, the experience gained from participant observation is highly valued. It is one thing to study the text, but it is another thing to be in the field and to apply these lessons to situations that happen in everyday life. A compromise of this situation would be to plant roots in the text but adapt to real-life experiences that put to test the religious values. Even though there are varying interpretations of the book of Genesis in Christian and Jewish religions, they prove to be important in ethical and moral dilemmas.


Don Seeman, “Ethnography, Exegesis and Jewish Ethical Reflection: The New Reproductive Technologies in Israel.” In Daphna Birenbaum-Carmeli and Yoram S. Carmeli editors, Kin, Gene, Community: Reproductive Technologies Among Jewish Israelis (Berghahn Books, 2010), pp. 340-362.

The Bible. Authorized King James Version, Oxford UP, 1998.