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Reproductive Technology and its Clash with Religion and Culture

As assistive reproductive technology grows more refined, developed, and even desired around the world, there is great importance in understanding the role this technology plays among different cultures and religions. Such bioethical conversations are being had in order to examine these cross-cultural views. The works of Broyde and Bhattacharyya, as well as Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha’s film, aim to provide thought and rationalization on reproductive technologies within the boundaries of two religions, Judaism and Hinduism. In “Magical Progeny, Modern Technology: A Hindu Bioethics of Reproductive Technology,” Swasti Bhattacharyya describes an ancient Hindu text, the Mahabharata, in order to address assistive reproductive technology from a Hindu perspective. Michael Broyde’s “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law”  and “Marriage, Sex and the Family in Judaism” address the reproductive technology of cloning from the viewpoint of Jewish law, or, Halakhah. Made in India, a film directed by Rebbecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha, highlights the consequences and hardships that come with choosing to use reproductive technology in India, specifically within the Muslim tradition. While differing in their methodologies and purpose, these pieces use religious texts/ideals to provide a clearer foundation on which reproductive bioethics is built among different traditions.

Bhattacharyya describes her methodology as interdisciplinary and organic. She writes, “It is interdisciplinary in that it draws together elements from the diverse fields of South Asian studies, literature, religion, bioethics, nursing, and some insights offered by a few contemporary voices from a Hindu community in Southern California” (Bhattacharyya 14). By utilizing narrative ethics, Bhattacharyya forms a clear picture of the Hindu ethic that encompasses many elements derived from the Hindu religion and culture. It is in these religious, cultural, and philosophical elements of the Mahabharata that the organic nature of the Hindu ethic lies. 

To explore these perspectives, Bhattacharyya reviews the Mahabharata, one of the most popular and sacred texts from India. She justifies her choice of the piece saying “This text preserves past ideology, records teachings and insights of its own time, and provides guidance for the future” (41). Bhattacharyya creates a space for further bioethical discussion concerning reproductive technology. Hindu is not a monotheistic religion and its pluralism encompasses much more than the Gods. As quoted in Battacharyya’s piece, Arnold Sharna assesses that Hinduism is “a religion of guidelines rather than rules.”  There are “fluid boundaries between various categories and internal diversity among official, unofficial, orthodox, and popular expression of Hinduism” (Bhattacharyya 20). In the Mahabharata, the emphasis is placed on the creation of a child rather than the path of procreation as shown by the paths taken by the divine figures in the text. Bhattacharyya claims that Hinduism has the betterment of the society in mind and encourages all types of procreation. In contrast, Broyde focuses on the “technologically” produced child and the kinship within the Jewish family it is born into. 

Broyde writes, “Every legal, religious, or ethical system has to insist that advances in technologies be evaluated against the touchstones of its moral systems. In the Jewish tradition, that touchstone is Halakhah, the corpus of Jewish law and ethics” (Broyde 295). Broyde works to analyze the technology of cloning from the perspective of Halakhah and the Hebrew Bible. These texts contain commandments, laws, and other writings that act as a universal doctrine for Jews, holding much more weight within Judaism than the Mahabharata in Hinduism. Broyde argues that there are two sides to the debate of cloning. One is the Jewish sense of duty and obligation to help those in need in the eyes of reproduction. The other side concerns the “God-given morality” of Jews- not everything society wants or can do is proper in the eyes of God. To address cloning technology, Broyde examines IVF practices through the lens of kinship. In Israel, “genetic relationship does not establish legal relationship” (305). Broyde describes how kinship issues arise because the gestational mother is considered to be the “real” mother in Israel. Broyde writes, “Generally speaking, unlike the common law tradition and Jewish law, modern American law views status issues such as parenthood as something that law determines, rather than something that the law discovers” (Broyde 506). 

While Broyde and Bhattacharyya’s pieces eloquently examine the bioethics of reproduction within Judaism and Hinduism, Made in India, a film directed by Rebecca Haimowitz and Vaishali Sinha, explores the truly personal nature of surrogacy and its clash with religion and culture. Lisa and Brian Switzer are unable to get pregnant on their own, but cannot afford the high price of surrogacy in the United States. After researching other outlets, the couple discovers the booming surrogacy industry in India. Their surrogate, Aasia Khan, is a poor, Muslim woman living in Mumbai, India with her children and husband who wants to save the money she’ll receive from surrogacy for her daughter’s future. As the film unfolds, complications arise among her family, and Aasia moves out of her home and leaves her children as a result of her husband’s disapproval of her pregnancy. The film highlights the unregulated reproductive industry in India and the charged discourse over surrogacy as it clashes with religion, ethics, and society

As assistive reproductive technology continues to develop and grow even more influential, questions of ethics and morality will also rise, placing a greater focus on how this technology interacts with religion and culture. The film, Made in India, shows this clash between religion and culture as it relates to the surrogate mother, Aasia. In the texts, Bhattacharyya proposes a more fluid, pluralistic perspective on the bioethics of reproduction within Hinduism, perhaps foreshadowing a greater acceptance of further technology in the future. Broyde, on the other hand, describes a clear, direct picture of the Jewish perspective, more rigid in its guidelines. While differing in their methodology and arguments, these works call upon religious/cultural texts or ideals to draw their conclusions on the use of assistive reproductive technology. 

Works Cited

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

Broyde, M. J. (2005). Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law. Marriage, Sex, and the Family in Judaism, 295-328. Rowman & Littlefield Pub, Inc.

Made in India~Owned Content – Emory University, 2010. Kanopy. Web. 13 Jun. 2020.

8 replies on “Reproductive Technology and its Clash with Religion and Culture”

Ali, you did a great job clearly describing the texts for this module and what is at stake in the conversation. What I find most interesting is the possibility that legal standards, religious imperatives, and desires of individuals have so much room to be intersectional and conflict with one another. The tension between Aasia’s desire to provide for her daughter, her husband’s dislike of her pregnancy, Aasia’s sister-in-law’s inability to participate in the surrogacy program, and the American couple’s desire for biological child all seem culturally embedded. I also noticed that the Indian government, although faced with issues of regulation of international reproductive practices, seemed only to provide guidelines for it and was not quick to implement laws regarding strict policy which led to conflict in the case of the movie. On another note, I wonder how in practice religious people’s desire may be violated or certainly questioned by secular hospitals and what kind of conflict that may inspire, particularly in Judaism, but also this might manifest differently for a Hindu with strong beliefs due to the “plurality” as you call it, of the religion. Thank you for engaging so critically with these texts!

Hi Ali,

I really liked the way that you elaborated on each text’s interpretation regarding how individual cultures affect the way that people view the responsibility of using assistive reproductive technologies. For example, Hinduism has “the betterment of society in mind,” Judaism emphasizes the need to evaluate reproductive technology “against the touchstones of its moral system” (Halakhah), and Christian-Catholics have another set of opinions based on their beliefs stemming from the dominion and holiness of God. What’s interesting to me was the point that Bhattacharyya mentioned about contrasting norms between the West (as largely influenced by Christian/Jewish beliefs) and the East (influenced by Hinduism). She explains that the West, both represented through cultural traditions and its legislative system, is more focused protecting individual autonomy. The East, on the other hand, is more likely to view the overall wellbeing of society with a higher priority, even if this means reducing certain rights of the individual in given circumstances. In a society that is heavily multicultural with many different religious beliefs and practices, creating a set of legislation that adequately addresses the needs of its diversity of individuals and the society at large will be immensely difficult. I’m curious to see what our final week of reading will discuss regarding public policy!

Ali, I think you did a really good job describing and laying out each of this modules’ readings. I think it’s incredibly important to understand how different religions and cultures come to the conclusions that they do when it comes to reproductive technologies, especially since each religion/culture has their own set of rules/ideals/thoughts on the subject. What I thought it was very interesting, which you briefly brought up, was the pluralistic aspect of Hinduism and how that showed through Bhattacharya’s understanding of the text and how it relates to reproductive technologies. I wonder if the pluralistic part of the religion/culture is related to how she understood the text and its almost open or freeness of the guidelines that she lays out. Thank you for your post!

Hi Ali, you did an excellent job describing the main points of the readings and film for this week’s module. I appreciate that you noted the methodologies of each piece as this plays a role in it’s advantages or limitations. As you said throughout your post religion and culture greatly influence our ethical background. I thought it was interesting how the readings this week set the stage of how people of different religions/cultural backgrounds can use reproductive technologies and we actually get a visual representation as an example. This was major to me because often times it can be easy to get lost in hypothetical scenarios, but seeing all the components at play in the film “Made in India” allows a person to have a larger picture of the different moral dilemmas everyone involved faces. Thank you for your post.

Ali, you did a good job summarizing and elaborating on each piece. Bhattacharyya’s point about the pluralism in Hinduism and its contribution to the understanding of childbearing and birthing seemed to be foundational to every point she brought up. In one instance she particularly says “Having the knowledge and understanding of various cultural and religious influences, a healthcare provider can be sensitive to the particular needs of a patient; she may avert conflicts and be prepared to facilitate the delivery of timely quality care” (22) and argues the opposite, that a narrow understanding can pose barriers to competent healthcare.I agree with this full heartedly and think back to the Rapp reading in which the language barrier and cultural views posed an issue for proper understanding of retardation. I also found the movie to be very powerful in that it showed the multifaceted nature and influence that goes into something like bearing someone’s child, and although the women was Muslim, the couple Christian, you cannot help but go back to the Hindu ethics and see reason in Bhattacharyya’s guidelines.

Hi Ali,
Thank you for your post! I really like what you wrote – your summary of the readings and the film is in-depth and insightful, and the connections you draw between the film and the readings are inspiring. In your post, you mentioned that the film “explores the truly personal nature of surrogacy and its clash with religion and culture.” I agree – I think while Bhattacharya and Broyde’s articles focused more on how the interpretation of the religious principle shape the social and cultural aspects of a society’s view and surrogacy, the film added the aspect of lived experience to the discussion, completing Dr. Seeman’s ethnographic triangle towards understanding the various religious perspectives on assisted reproductive technology.
Reading Bhattacharya and Broyde’s work, I became more aware of the significant roles different religions play that impact the social structures and cultural features, thus influencing the perspectives of societies on assisted reproductive technology. There might be contrasting views on assisted reproductive technology within the same religion based on one’s interpretations. However, the significance of religious guidelines and principles remain the same for followers regardless of their perspectives. The film emphasizes the importance of taking personal experience and choices into account when looking at these issues. Social structures, cultural features and interpretations of traditions do not matter in the world of applying assistive reproductive before one’s personal choice and lived experience.

Ali, this is a great post! You did a great job summarizing each of the pieces for the week, while also elaborating on how views surrounding new reproductive technologies are culturally contingent. Through the lenses of Hinduism, Judaism, and Catholicism, we can see how certain religious and moral codes have shaped views on reproductive technology. Where Hinduism emphasizes pluralism and the betterment of society, Judaism emphasizes its moral system of Halakhah, while Catholicism, still, draws upon the dominion of God. Under each of these frameworks, we can see the seeds for each of these sects modern reproductive framework. In the film, however, I think what I found most interesting was the ways in which laws, religious belief, and the desire of individuals to procreate all largely came into conflict with one another. It was as though the cultural features, lived experiences, and social forces of the Ethnographic Triangle all converged on each other to create an exceedingly difficult experience for all those involved. Again, I think cultural competency is a key player in navigating situations such as these.

Excellent Ali! This was an excellent summary of the movie and readings which synthesized an enormous amount of information succinctly and tied everything together. There is a mystical fascination with Eastern religions and seeing how they converge with reproductive technologies helps to highlight the universal dilemma from different points of view which are both informative and instructive. Great job!

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