Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics – Ally Grubman

The advances in the field of reproductive technology have caused many questions to arise. With the advancements of this technology, many people are trying to develop a stronger understanding and awareness of their restrictions on the topic. Faithful and curious people have found it helpful to find answers in the things they know, such as what is believed in their religion. 

Each religion has different sentiments on the new reproductive technologies. For instance, the Roman Catholic Church revealed their perception of topics like IVF and surrogacy through “Instruction on Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation”. Throughout this, Donum Vitae answers common questions that they have been encountering since the revelation of these new reproductive technologies. Mainly, this doctrine argues that a child can only be brought into this world through procreation between a husband and wife, and unless it is to keep the fetus alive, no other measures can be taken.

“Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation” is based on an interpretation of the Book of Genesis. The beginning of the Book of Genesis illustrates the creation of the world, starting with light and ending with people. The man and woman God created were unique in that they were shaped to mirror God’s image and blessed to have the command and a sort of power over the living creatures of the earth, a gift that no other living thing was given. The man and his wife were told to “‘be fruitful and multiply’”, blessing them with the ability to have children and fill the earth (Genesis, 1:28). The text also declares, “a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh,” which the Roman Catholic Church views as God’s image of marriage, between a woman and man (Genesis, 2:24). While the text can be indeterminate and ambiguous, Donum Vitae interprets this to mean that only a man and his wife should reproduce and that they will then become kin. 

Donum Vitae’s perspective on the topic is that procedures and techniques that “dominate the processes of procreation… can enable man to ‘take in hand his own destiny,’ but they also expose him ‘to the temptation to go beyond the limits of a reasonable dominion over nature‘“ (Donum Vitae, 141). It is clear here that they are not only taking the stance on the “natural act” of procreation between a heterologous married couple but also that there is a human right for a child to know and be raised by their biological parents. “It is through the secure and recognized relationship to his own parents that the child can discover his own identity and achieve his own proper human development” (Donum Vitae, 158). Here, they purposefully say his own parents, emphasizing the need for a child to be born from and raised by his/her original, genetic parents. This postulates a contrasting idea from what we have encountered through the readings in the past modules. 

Susan Martha Kahn finds a different perspective when researching and interviewing Israeli women who had gone or were planning on going through different reproductive procedures to have a child, such as artificial insemination. Through her novel, Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel, Kahn uncovers that most unmarried women she interviewed in Israel, whether they be straight or lesbian, had received the necessary support from their family, peers, religious figures, and medical team. While some women were expecting judgment and ridicule for their decision to have a child out of wedlock, most were met with surprising approval and encouragement. In Israel, “an unmarried woman’s right to become a mother through artificial insemination not only does not threaten ‘the delicate fabric of society,’ it is guaranteed as part of her basic right to privacy” (Kahn, 77). Judaism focuses not on how the child is created but more on how the child is brought up and loved by their family, whether that be a genetic family or not. The importance to reproduce within the Jewish culture allows for the opportunity for women to use other methods of conception to fulfill their want/need for a child. This highlights the differences in religious interpretations of the new reproductive technologies and assisted conception. This is a drastically different view from the Roman Catholic Church’s perspective. Seeing this radical difference between the two allows the reader a chance to understand where each comes from and how people make the decisions that they do in regards to the reproductive technologies available today.

Professor Seeman goes even deeper beyond this, explaining why different religions, such as Judaism and Christianity, have discrete views when looking into reproductive technologies. He explains that “Jewish law tends to derive not from the open-ended narrative analysis favored by many Christian ethical writers, but from a more formal and abstract notion of discrete and bounded legal prohibitions… that constitute a negative limit for human behavior rather than an simulacra of some positive ethical ideal (Seeman, 349). Professor Seeman also postulates that each different society, country, and religion have come to their own decisions based on their own cultures rather than the new advances themselves. In most cultures, the laws are mostly influenced by sociological and historical factors. This is the same idea as to when we were talking about the definition of kinship. Because this reproductive technology shapes kinship, it makes sense that they would both have a similar idea behind them: that there isn’t one right answer or one definition. “Ethics cannot be reduced to a purely technical craft so long as moral interpretation and human experience remain decisively open-ended” (Seeman, 359). Each individual’s definitions and opinions are incredibly subjective and are configured around their life experiences. 


Kinship Narratives and New Reproductive Technologies

Through the extensive ethnographic inquiry and “thick description” of the Module 2 readings, we can see the various ways narratives of kinship effect and shape reproductive decision-making across the globe. Although the calculus behind kinship is widely debated, kinship relationships are foundational to both marriage and reproduction, as well as society as a whole. From an evolutionary psychology perspective, “kinship is defined in terms of genetic relatedness…” where “you’re either someone’s mother or you aren’t” (McKinnon 107). As such, evolutionary psychologists assert “a direct link between kinship categories and biological relatedness…” (McKinnon 109). In contrast to this perspective, however, ‘constructionists’ like McKinnon view genetics as but one mode through which kinship relations are formed. Under this conception of kinship, “the fact of ‘treating one another well’ says it all: the relationship is created and maintained by acts of nurturance and solicitude…” (McKinnon 111). Through patterns of altruism, nurturance, and an allocation of resources, then, kinship transcends the bounds of any one genetic relationship. 

Although McKinnon provides the multifaceted use of kinship vocabulary as evidence that “the mind is a flexible and creative tool capable of creating diverse cultural forms” – where a female child may be addressed as ‘mother’ or a surrogate father as ‘dad’ – Shapiro asserts that such extensions “are grounded in native appreciations of procreation…” (Shapiro 140). While such kinship vocabulary necessarily extends beyond biology, Shapiro argues that kinship is, nevertheless, dependent upon, and therefore derived from, genetic calculi.

Kinship narratives such as these play a particularly prominent role in shaping cultural attitudes towards adoption, IVF, birth-control, and other reproductive technologies. Throughout the Muslim world, “attitudes toward family formation are closely tied to religious teachings that stress the importance of ‘purity of lineage,’” posing a quandary for couples faced with infertility. For both Shi’ites and Sunnis, “the very concept of social parenthood is culturally contingent and is deeply embedded in ‘local moral worlds,’…[which] govern ideas about the parenting of ‘nonbiological children, including those conceived through biotechnological means” (Inhorn 96). As such, many of the men discussed “could not accept the idea of social fatherhood – arguing that an adopted or donor child ‘won’t be my son’…” (Inhorn 98). Especially among Sunni men, genetic relationship is closely tied to kinship. 

Likewise, kinship also plays a prominent role in shaping the reproductive practices of Orthodox Jews, shaping the ways in which they navigate the tension between the traditionally divine realm of procreation and “the ability to take charge of and fully mange reproduction” (Taragin-Zeller 372). Through the construction of a middle-ground or grey-area of decision-making, many of Taragin-Zeller’s interviewees coped with the anxieties of reproduction, as well as the tension it posed against their faith, by constructing “a decision-making apparatus that takes into consideration the desires of the self, communal mores, and the input of external players,” the most important of which being God (Taragin-Zeller 379). 


What is kinship?

Religion 358 Summer 2020 Module 2 Ro Rollings

Kinship is difficult to define.  Even experts disagree.  The dilemma is that an observer is limited by their own experience and training. “We don’t see things as they are; we see them as we are” is a suitable quote assigned to Anaïs Nin and Talmudic origin. Thus when Susan McKinnon critiques evolutionary psychologists such as Steven Pinker, she is shaped by her training, her world view and experiences.  That Warren Shapiro would similarly counter her arguments from his completely different perspective is not surprising.  Even the middle path espoused by Robert Parkin has limitations, just as a referee can only see what is in their field of view and understanding.  Perhaps this is why Tibetan medical physicians quiet their minds and bodies prior to undertaking the examination of the patient. The topic of kinship in the context of bioethics is an intensely real and personal issue. As pointed out in the readings from Inhorn and Taragin-Zeller, the issues of kinship become paramount in the study of reproduction, particularly in light of the advances in medical technology.  These cultural considerations are critical to acquiring and processing the data as multiple disciplines must be coordinated in order to address the real needs of diverse populations undergoing constant dynamic change and transformation.  Assumptions can be blinding through any lens.  In each article for Module 2, the author’s experience and research is both enlightening and limiting.  The spectrum of humanity is tremendously complex and the reason there are so many different disciplines is because each context is multidimensional. In this diverse group of readings, kinship appears to be revealed as exceedingly personal.  No one article or point of view can ever entirely suffice, no more than it would in any other academic discipline.  As such, Susan Kahn does the best job of establishing the landscape and perspective for insight in her Introduction to her book in which she generously acknowledges her contributors, advisors and inspirations at the outset.

Addendum: “The art of medicine, is the mastery of chaos” was the leading quote to my 1984 handbook Facts and Formulas created for medical students and house-staff.  Each fact and formula was cited from the original scientific articles.  The final quote and warning was nested on the final page:  “To be ignorant of one’s ignorance, is the malady of the ignorant.”(Amos Bronson Alcott)

Image: As Jack Webb in Dragnet remarked, “Just the facts, Ma’am.”

1. S􏰀usan McKinnon, 􏰁On Kinship and Marriage: A Critique􏰀e of the Genetic and Gender Calcu􏰀lu􏰀s of Ev􏰄ol􏰀utionar􏰇y Ps􏰇ycholog􏰇y,􏰂 In S. McKinnon and S. Sil􏰄verman editors, Complexities: Beyond Nature and Nurture, 106-131 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2005). 

2.Warren Shapiro, 􏰁What H􏰀man Kinship is Primarily􏰇 Abo􏰀ut: To􏰃wards a Critiq􏰀e of the Ne􏰃 Kinship St􏰀dies.􏰂 Social Anthropology (2008) 16: 137-153. 

2. a. Robert Parkin, What Shapiro and McKinnon are all about, and why kinship still needs anthropologists. Social Anthropology/Anthropology Social (2009) 17, 2 158–170 

3. Marcia Inhorn, He Won􏰆t Be M􏰇 Son: Middle Eastern Men􏰆s Discourses of Gamete Donation.􏰂 Medical Anthropology􏰇 Q􏰀uarterly􏰇 20 (2006): 94-120. 

4. Lea Taragin-Zeller (2019) 􏰁Conceiv􏰄ing God􏰆s Children􏰂: Tow􏰃ard a Flex􏰈ible Model of Reproductive Decision-Making, Medical Anthropology, 38:4, 370-383.

5. Susan Martha Kahn, Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel (Duke University Press, 2000). 

6. Anaïs Nin did employ this statement in her 1961 work “Seduction of the Minotaur”.

7. Robert Rollings, Facts and Formulas, 1984(self published)


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