Upon reading the works of Michael Broyde and Swasti Bhattacharyya on paradigms of thought and rationalization on reproductive technologies, I was able to gain an understanding of how religious texts make for foundational bioethics. These texts help us navigate a religious perspective on these technologies. There were some key differences that I noticed between the works of Bhattacharyya and Broyde; for instance, there was fundamental differences in methods and texts used as referential material.
Bhattacharya uses the Mahabharata, which is one of the two major Sanskrit epics of ancient India and Broyde uses Jewish law, which is built upon the Torah. The Torah has narratives and so does the Mahabharata, but the Torah also contains commandments, statements of laws, statements of ethics, and other scripture that is essentially a universal doctrine for Jews. The Mahabharata does not hold that type of weight among the Hindu community and is not as universal. Additionally, Christianity and Judaism has had a role in foundational bioethics that Hinduism did not have simply because Christianity and Judaism also function as powerful institutions in Western society (Bhattacharya 28) . This is a fundamental difference between Hinduism and Judaism that influences the Western understanding of bioethics. Bhattacharya argues that until recently, North American ideologies on issues involving reproductive technologies such as infertility have been “primarily shaped by concepts and beliefs grounded in traditional Jewish and Christian perspectives” (Bhattacharya 12).
Beyond differences in power and influence, there are also differences in religious structure such as the idea of scholars and officials that have a certain amount of power and say within the Jewish community, while this sort of position does not exist in Hinduism. Broyde highlights this structure as a fundamental aspect of Jewish law. He notes that Jewish law recognizes the rabbinical authorities of every generation to have final declarations on what is permissible and what is not (Broyde 508), which is how decisions on reproductive technologies were/are made.
Another notable difference is how Broyde and Bhattacharya use the religious texts they focus on. Bhattacharya made it very clear that she is not claiming authority as a religious institution of Hinduism with her writing on reproductive technologies. She was simply aligning narratives from the Mahabharata with common themes of kinship and reproduction that is discussed in Jewish and Christian bioethics. Therefore she uses subjects such as infertility, paternal surrogacy, sperm donation from Jewish and Christian bioethics, but uses cosmology and stories of kinship to illustrate portrayals of those subjects in Hinduism. For instance, the story about the royal families, the Pandavas and Kauravas, demonstrated the difficulties of having sons when the women could not reproduce (Bhattacharya 46). By using examples such as those, I agree with Dr. Seeman that her role with this text is to be an “authoritative interpreter.” Additionally, when looking at the language Bhattacharya uses compared to the language Broyde uses, Broyde uses more authoritative language. Although Broyde acknowledges that Jewish law inspects new reproductive technologies on a case by case analysis, (Broyde 504) he states exact conclusions on specific technologies such as cloning. He presents both perspectives clearly on cloning: the moral conservatism perspective and one of Jewish obligation (Broyde 504). Broyde is able to do this since he can fall back on Jewish law and Jewish institutions that abide by these proclamations, which means a majority of Jews probably do as well.
Another distinct difference Bhattacharyya highlighted was views of religious and societal figures in themes of kinship and reproduction. For instance, in Judaism (and Christianity) God is viewed as a figure with ultimate control and power when it comes to procreation (Bhattacharya 70). The traditional uses of prayer are directed to God in religious narratives such as the story of Sarah and Abraham, when Sarah gave birth at age 90, which also reflects God’s ability grant Sarah the ability to give birth when she shouldn’t have been able to due to menopause. There is also a special relationship between God and women as God enables women and they usually take more initiative when it comes to praying for children. While in Hinduism, Bhattacharyya highlights that there is a coequal existence with God (Bhattacharyya 62).
I believe that most of differences when discussing religious perspectives on reproductive technologies is due to the specific methodology that I highlighted earlier, but I definitely believe that differences between Hinduism and Judaism contribute to these differences as well. Bhattacharyya acknowledges that there is no governing body within Hinduism that can make proclamations about bioethics and that defining Hindu ethic would be impossible (Bhattacharyya 16) and also problematic. However, she does believe that the characteristics of Hindu thought should be essential aspect of Hindu bioethics, which makes sense since these characteristics describe how all aspects of life including reproduction should be approached by most Hindus. While Jewish law distinguishes these ethics very specifically within reproductive technologies even to the point of labeling who would be the legal mother of a child in the case of cloning (the gestational mother) (Broyde 511).
When looking at contemporary bioethics and considering technologies that are controversial today like prenatal testing, I believe that Broyde would approach this by the law that when no other method is available, Jewish law allows for a certain reproductive technology (Broyde 533). By using this approach, I thought that prenatal testing might be viewed as supplementary and therefore prohibited, however, I realized I was mistaken upon doing some research. An article published by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) stated that genetic screening is permissible if used for treatment, cure, or prevention of disease (Rosner). As for Bhattacharyya, I believe that since she too would consider prenatal testing permissible, because, as discussed in class, she has rationalized secular bioethics well by using the Mahabharata.
By investigating these two works, I was able to begin to understand Hindu thought and Jewish law more in its applications with reproductive technologies. This was my initial exposure with both religious texts, but through reading these works I better understood how Jewish law was built upon Judaism as an institution which has more influence and power within Western society compared to Hinduism. Although there were some obvious differences between the two works and their approaches to reproductive technologies, being able to understand how influential Judaism (and Christianity) was in establishing Bhattacharyya’s understanding of HIndu bioethics demonstrated how deeply rooted religion is in fundamental aspects of bioethics.
Bhattacharyya, Swasti. Magical Progeny, Modern Technology a Hindu Bioethics of Assisted Reproductive Technology. Albany: State U of New York, 2006. Print.
Broyde, M. “Cloning People: A Jewish Law Analysis of the Issues.” Connecticut Law Review 30.2 (1998): 503-35. Web.
Rosner, F. “Judaism, Genetic Screening and Genetic Therapy.” The Mount Sinai Journal of Medicine, New York 65.5-6 (1998): 406-13. Print.