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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. 

8 replies on “Natural Law and Reproductive Ethics – Ally Grubman”

This is a great post! You did a really nice job of discussing each of the three texts, while also providing commentary on each of their respective implications for our study of kinship and new reproductive technologies. Through Donum Vitae’s exegesis, we can see the ways in which the Catholic reproductive framework has been shaped by biblical notions of kinship. Most notably, “the human being is to be respected and treated as a person from the moment of conception and therefore from that same moment his rights as a person must be recognized, among which in the first place is the inviolable right of every innocent human being to life” (Vitae 149). As you noted, this conception arises from the unique relationship humans have with God. In the church’s view, reproductive technology “usurps the place of God” (Vitae 154). Unlike the church, however, reproductive technologies in Israel are derived from a vastly different framework, the commandment “be fruitful and multiply” resonating deeply with Jews throughout the country.

Ally, I really appreciated how you connected your post back to the idea of kinship, especially concerning its subjectivity. I agree with your statement that different societies, countries, and religions have come to their own conclusions based on their own cultures, however, I would take this even further. I believe there is great variation within each religion as well, something that the readings have not necessarily highlighted, though I think it’s worth mentioning. There are so many factors that influence family planning as it concerns religion including how much one values their faith, how progressive the respective branch of their religion is, and if their decision will be respected by their greater faith community. For example, in Catholicism, most follow the rules/guidelines laid out in the Donum Vitae when it comes to family planning. However, among other branches of Christianity, interpretation of religious texts is based on one’s own beliefs and choices. This is evident in Judaism as well. As Dr. Seeman eloquently states, “Ethics cannot be reduced to a purely technical craft so long as moral interpretation and human experience remain decisively open-ended” (Seeman, 359). With so many cultures, religions, etc. holding so many varying beliefs, kinship cannot be contained to a single pinpoint definition. All of this connects back to your main point: there isn’t one definitive definition of kinship.

I really like how you summarized this week’s reading — your summary caught the main point of each article and connected them in terms of contrasting opinions on assisted reproductive technology of Judaism and Christianity. I also completely agree with the connection you drawn in the end between kinship and reproductive technology that reproductive technology shapes kinship, and discussions on such topics have no right or wrong.

I really like how you discussed Kahn’s book! To take the discussion further, I also think that Kahn’s book can be connected back to last week’s reading on Orthodox Jews in Israel’s flexible model on reproductive decision-making. In Taragin-Zeller’s paper, she points out the various ways Orthodox Jews justify their reproductive decision-making through negotiation and drawing boundaries between the human and God. Some modified conventional Jewish ideas to perceive birth control as “a gift from God,” while others reject the concept of birth control and insist on the need to have more children following the teaching of the Jewish Bible. There is no right or wrong: both groups are religious towards their own interpretation of the religion. Cases Khan’s book mentioned that unmarried women are encouraged by their families to use assisted reproductive technology is a reflection of how people affiliated to the same religion can interpret the ideology very differently because of the various human experiences. This brings up the final point Dr. Seeman’s article addresses: the conversation about bioethics and reproductive technology needs to be expanded from the vague sense of “nature” to vastly different moral, religious interpretation, and human experiences. With that point being made, I think that something worth looking into for future reading/discussion is the variations of attitudes towards assisted reproductive technology within religions. There can be very different interpretations within the same religion because of the difference in human experiences. I would be interested in reading more cases on the variation of opinions towards reproductive technology within the same religion.

Hi Ally,

Great review, and great job summarizing all of the texts while striking a conversation that draws connections between the discourse. I like the way that you described how different cultural backgrounds pave the way for different moral interpretation in the Christian-Catholic and Jewish contexts, even though their central reference points were from the same Biblical texts. I was particularly intrigued by a particular viewpoint from Donum Vitae that you also brought up: the author believes that a certain mode of reproduction would yield important implications for family patterns, which affect subsequent identity development in the children. I can imagine what the author is thinking, but I wish he elaborated a bit more on this connection from his moral standpoint. In my head, this gives room for confusion when thinking about the difference between children produced using reproductive technology versus children who were adopted, in terms of familial security and successful development of personal identity.

It was also particularly interesting to read that rabbinic scholars tended to focus more on the book of Leviticus than the book of Genesis–as opposed to Christian scholars–in creating their own viewpoints. The ambiguity of these sources create a lot of potential for differential interpretation, and it is in this gray area that anthropologists find huge possibility for moral pioneers to bring radical change to the current landscape. This potential for change is especially magnified in these contexts because of its relation to reproduction, as cultural norms are shifted and carried forward through progeny. After witnessing a weekend of protests in America, I’m left thinking about gray areas in our sociopolitical climate, and how current and future generations may leverage this state of tension to initiate positive change.

Thank you Ally! The spectrum of religions and their approach to their respective peoples in the context of kinship is starting to make sense to me through the lens of reproductive technology. The divergent solutions that emerge seem to universally go through the stages of acknowledgment, acceptance and then adapting. Whether Jewish, Muslim or Catholic, the same biological and natural functions exist. Whether considering space or time or both together, these functionally play out in the real world with real needs and powerful relevance from the top down and from the bottom up. What I think you’ve done in your scholar blogpost is beautiful as you have presented each of the readings as a cohesive map in such a way that the differences and similarities can be analyzed. I’m starting to understand why the readings and lessons are structured in the way that they are. Mixing ethnography, religion, anthropology and biotechnology is much like a recipe with great potential….yet the final result is based on letting these points thoughtfully merge together with a chef’s mastery. Well done!

Ally, good job describing the scope of this conversation and using Dr. Seeman’s writing to conclude just why this topic is so fleeting in its conclusions and interpretation. Dr. Seeman says “Ethics cannot be reduced to a purely technical craft so long as moral interpretation and human experience remain decisively open-ended” (Seeman, 359) and this is blatantly evident in the way that different religious sects such as Catholics and certain groups of Jews interpret reproductive laws differently despite both of them pulling from the same Hebrew bible. It is also interesting that some lines are used in the justification seen in Donnum Vitae’s writing while the lines following it may contradict that same point/ rule. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter, as in this case, the interpretation is done for Catholics. But in the case of other religious sects, so much varied meaning is pulled from the book of Genesis and leads to different conclusions about reproduction. I just wanted to make light of another quote- “We might imagine a reinvigorated bioethical discourse that takes into account not just
rabbinic concerns with lineage and kinship categories, or philosophical concerns with free agency and informed consent, but also
a broader grappling with the kinds of social and experiential issues
raised empirically through ethnographic research” (Seeman 358). Things can be written down, but it is almost just as important to see how people in certain religious denominations are actually practicing certain reproductive methods like IVF. It would be interesting to have a concrete number on how many catholics have gotten pregnant via IVF.

Hi Ally,

Thanks for your thoughtful discussion on reproduction technology. I appreciate the connection to kinship, as we learned last week that kinship and reproduction have a cyclical relationship in that one determines the other and the other way around. Kahn’s reading demonstrated the flexibility of political laws relating to reproduction on account of religious and social influences. We see how Israel’s Supreme Court quickly reheard the case of Ruti Nahmani and her embryos after deciding that the law guaranteed her husband’s right to -not- be a parent more important than her right -to- be a parent. The court decided that being a parent is too important of an existential purpose for the law to block any woman’s attempt to become one. Kahn attributes this to Judaism’s influence on the Israeli population. Judaism sponsors the idea of “being fruitful and multiplying”, especially after the Holocaust. So, we see how laws and politics can change and be influenced by religious or social issues. Dr. Seeman put it perfectly when he said, “Ethics cannot be reduced to a purely technical craft so long as moral interpretation and human experience remain decisively open-ended” (Seeman 359).

Thank you Ally for your blog post. I think you did an excellent job highlighting the main points of each reading while also creating a link by comparing and contrasting their perspectives and goals.
In “Respect for Human Life in Its Origin and on the Dignity of Procreation” the reader is given the Catholic Church’s position on the use of reproductive technology. They take their position based on the Book of Genesis concluding that the best conditions to have a child is under a married heterosexual couple. They further argue this position that the right’s of the unborn child should always be taken into account and how that child deserves to grow up with its parents. This perspective in general caused me to question in general how does the Catholic Church deal with free will, specifically opportunities for one’s own desires, and God’s will. How would the Catholic Church treat a married couple that chose to use reproductive technologies openly? I thought the Catholic churches ultimate stance was that God should be the only one intervening on human procreation especially if the rights of the unborn fetus may be confronted.

From Susan Kahn’s writings in Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel, I think the use of reproductive technologies in Israel shows a connection between how a majority religious culture can align with a society as a whole. In the reading, Kahn described how the cost is subsidized by the government for most reproductive technology patients, which thus creates more access to women of different socioeconomic backgrounds. I thought it was interesting how the lines did become a bit blurred in Israel of the government’s “control” over who could become mothers and those that want to through the interview processes. Some of the women did not mind the interviews, and others seemed scared they might make a mistake and say something that would take away their candidacy.

This leads well into Professor Seeman’s writings for the week, where both of you note the importance of how the sociological and historical factors have shown to influence law and how that can be a reflection of culture. This week’s readings continue on the concept of kinship and how that becomes more complicated through the crossings of religion and ethics.

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