Many questions regarding the ethicality of reproductive technology continue to arise with the increased utilization of and desires for such processes. Though some may argue that decisions of ethicality and legality towards these procedures should be determined independently of religious influence, many scholars, religious leaders, and individuals continue to produce evidence as support or opposition towards such technology (Bhattacharyya 6). We were given two texts that address the topic of reproductive technology from differing religious perspectives. Through her Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Reproductive Technology, Swasti Bhattacharyya pioneers the topic of new reproductive technologies specifically from a Hindu perspective. It has been difficult to declare ethical stances for this religion because of its differing origins and mass of religious texts and stories. Bhattacharyya describes Hinduism as a conglomerate that “has no Pope or Magisterium, no central, overarching authority figure or governing body” (Bhattacharyya xvi). The lack of central, concrete sources of information have made it difficult for scholars to form a collective response to the religion’s perspective on certain topics such as in vitro fertilization. The term “Hindu” can describe a community geographically and religiously, thus revealing “fluid boundaries between various categories and internal diversity among official, unofficial, orthodox, and popular expression of Hinduism” (Bhattacharyya 20). Michael Broyde’s “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law” addresses the reproductive technology of cloning from the standpoint of Jewish law. This text was written through the view of a religion that has strong fundamental understandings of the religious laws that are relatively uniform throughout the communities that practice it.
Key differences between the approach of Broyde and Bhattacharya towards reproductive technology is foremost apparent through their intended audiences and purpose for writing their perspective texts. Bhattacharya incorporates ethnographical recounts from Hindu patients as well as her experience as a student, nurse, and Hindu practicer into her book, giving it a more personal and open approach (Bhattacharyya 8). Her intended audience could possibly be Hindu followers considering artificial reproductive technologies. She does not claim religious authority but rather makes claims argumentatively. Broyde, however, is more direct with his approach and leaves little room for interpretation. He employs direct connection with his claims to Jewish law, or halakhah, which has been developed and applied within the Jewish community for over fifty years (Broyde 11). Broyde provides many examples for further clarification of the Jewish law but besides these, he is very clear on the circumstances and bioethical stances in accordance with written passages and Jewish law. For example, Broyde addresses the Talmud when considering the “humanness” of an artificial anthropoid (golem) in reference to cloning, eventually concluding that they are considered to be human and cannot be killed according to religious law.
The purpose of writing for both authors seems to differ as well. Broyde influences authoritatively and focuses his writing on the permissibility of cloning and the familial status of the resulting individual (Broyde 296). Bhattacharyya’s approach focuses more on making connections between passed down mythical stories that are well-known among Hindu followers. More specifically, a majority of Bhattaryya’s claims have been derived from connections to Mahabharata narratives (Bhattacharyya 28). For example, she argues that Hinduism places higher significance on the results of reproduction rather than the process of getting there, and she does this by referencing religious narratives that exemplify the creative ways of procreation from divine figures (Bhattacharyya 56). Alternatively, Broyde uses religious texts but also does so in indirect ways by referencing established Jewish law in addition to popular religious figures within the Jewish community, such as Rabbi Bleich in the case of Jewish surrogacy (Broyde 302). Though Broyde was able to reference such things as evidence and support because of the universal beliefs shared among most Jewish members. Overall, the two authors differed in their approaches to explaining religious perspectives on reproductive technology because of their intended audiences, purposes, and the type of resources available and accepted by the majority of the religious communities.
Though differences between the proposed religious perspectives can be partially attributed to the methodology of the authors, I believe that a majority of the differences are ultimately the results of the fundamental beliefs and structures of the two faiths. Hinduism more specifically appears to be more difficult to pinpoint perspectives on issues because of its existence as a religion made by encompassing the beliefs of a whole region. Hinduism lacks a “fixed and formal doctrine concerning any matter,” thus there is neither an insistence or an objection to the use of artificial reproductive technologies (Bhattacharyya 53). Bhattacharyya formulated her argument on well-known religious texts, and did so through her personal, open-ended interpretation of the text and her personal experiences as a practicer. Although she did have contributions from mentors and other Hindu followers, the potential for bias in their collective interpretations is very likely due to their shared interactions and residence in similar communities. In other words, there is a large chance that the presented interpretations and connections of the Mahabharata narratives do not align with those in other countries or even different parts of the United States because of the nature of the Hindu religion. While there is the diaspora of the Jewish faith as well, the religion has a centralized text and establish Jewish law that Broyde can confidently reference as an essential component of a Jewish community (Broyde 11).
Furthermore, and inevitably, the content and fundamental beliefs of the religions cause a contrast between the two perspectives as well. Bhattacharyya specifically references six key elements of Hindu thought that should be addressed when considering the ethicality of artificial reproductive technologies from this religious perspective (Bhattacharyya 57). When looked at holistically, these elements emphasize the connection between the individual and their surrounding environment. For example, it is argued that the consideration of procreation and fertility, or infertility, should not be viewed as an individual issue but should instead incorporate the interests of the public as well (Bhattacharyya 81). Whereas Broyde focuses on the artificially reproduced individual or even the Jewish family unit that it is born into, Bhattacharyya claims that Hinduism examines the issue of procreation with the betterment of the society in mind as well. This emphasis can be attributed to the six key elements of Hindu belief referenced as the centrality of society, the underlying unity of all life, requirements of dharma, multivalent nature of Hindu traditions, the theory of karma, and the commitment to ahimsa. The six key elements are driving factors that cause the overlap of concern regarding procreation to be between the individual and the public’s interest.
The resulting perspective of Hinduism on artificial procreation proposed by Bhattacharyya is more open-ended and less authoritative than that proposed by Broyde for the Jewish perspective. Though the manner in which they make their claims differ, their basic dependence on religious texts is undeniable because of the importance and conclusions drawn from these stories by religious communities. Bhattacharyya mentions the increasing concern for religious influence in legislative action, but she also touches upon the significance of these religious interpretations in clinical settings when individuals are directly faced with heavy decisions involving precious human lives (Bhattacharyya 7). Academic or declarative texts such as these by Bhattacharya and by Boyde are significant in the application of religious perspectives to the technologies of modern day, and it is important to continue developing and assessing these interpretations on religious perspectives, regardless of any discord that may arise from the analyses themselves.
– Bhattacharya, Swasti. Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Reproductive Technology (Suny University Press, 2006).
– Broyde, Michael J. “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.