Pluralistic Considerations of Bioethics

Swasti Bhattacharya, Michael J. Broyde and directors Vaishali Sinha and Rebecca Haimowitz provide prospectives on bioethical interpretations of reproductive technologies in the 21st century. They interpret bioethics specifically through the lens of Jewish and Hindu religions, as well as Indian culture and Islam. All of them accomplish this through different methods. Bhattacharya interprets bioethics relating to reproductive technology through a Hindu lens. She focuses specifically on Mahābhārata, a well-known religious epic, to focus on six key elements of Hindu thought to guide her discussion of reproductive technology and bioethics. Michael J. Broyde discusses reproductive technology in the context of halakhah, or Jewish law. Vaishali Sinha’s and Rebecca Haimowitz’s film “Made in India” follows an American couple through their experience with surrogacy in Mumbai, India.

Swasti Bhattacharya establishes an interpretation of Hindu bioethical rationale of reproductive technology in her book, “Magical Progeny, Modern Technology”. She does this to increase cultural understandings of Hindu bioethics in the US, as most scholarship in the field is informed through Jewish or Christian notions. Bhattacharya stresses multiple times throughout the book that her interpretation of Hindu bioethics through the Mahābhārata is one perspective. She makes it very clear that Hinduism exists in great variability, that it is not a monolith. Her choice to interpret the Mahābhārata comes from its popularity, as well as its relevancy to the topic: she focuses on the struggles of Kunti, Madri and Gandhari in conceiving a child. Bhattacharya then examines Hindu ethical interpretations of reproductive technology through six main themes found in the text: “1) an emphasis on the centrality of societal good 2) a firm belief in the underlying unity of all life 3) the expectations and requirements of dharma 4) the multivalent nature of Hindu traditions 5) karma theory and 6) commitment to no harm” (Bhattacharya 77). Through these six themes, she turns to a case study of a Californian family’s experience with IVF to demonstrate that above all, Hindu ethics is concerned with societal and universal good, and reproductive technologies must be analyzed under that lens.

Michael J. Broyde discusses halakhah (Jewish law), reproductive technology, and bioethics in a book chapter titled, “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law”. He finds that if cloning is absolutely necessary, it can be interpreted as a “mitzvah” (a good deed), or as morally neutral. He contends that while the ethical consideration of cloning is incredibly dependent of the context, it is not in the Jewish interest to prohibit, as this goes against tradition which, “…imposes a duty on those capable of resolving such matters to do so” (Broyde 316). Broyde proposes three guidelines regarding cloning that work to prevent violations of halakhah. All three of the guidelines tend towards keeping the amount of bodies involved in the process as minimal as possible, hopefully between a man and wife, and that if not a non-Jew then an unmarried Jewish women should be involved in carrying the clone. Both Broyde and Bhattacharya stress that their interpretation of religious notions of bioethics and reproductive technology do not stand as a monolith for the entire religion.

Vaishali Sinha’s and Rebecca Haimowitz’s film “Made in India” focuses more on cross-cultural ethical considerations of surrogacy as an American couple outsources their surrogate from India. Lisa and Brian recruit Aasia through a surrogacy agency in Mumbai to carry their twins. Aasia signs on to provide for her family because she lives in poverty, despite her husband’s disapproval for religious reasons. Aasia and her family are Muslim. Aasia actually ends up having to leave her home and stay in a surrogacy house before prematurely giving birth to the twins alone in a hospital. She relies on her sister to act as a liaison for her due to her husband’s disapproval. Back in the US, Lisa and Brian face backlash after an appearance on national television telling their story, many people saying that they are taking advantage of Aasia’s poor living conditions to pay her less. In the end of the film, Sinha and Haimowitz highlight how Aasia is in fact cheated out of money promised to her via contractual obligations. The film highlights how assistive reproductive technology, left unregulated, becomes ethically muddled. They also demonstrate how little all parties involved care for the rights of the surrogate mother. The medical tourism liaisons at the end of the film speak about attending conferences to set up regulations and guidelines, but lack regard for the human and economic rights of their surrogates.

What I have taken from all of these sources is that assistive reproduction technologies must be strictly regulated within a pluralistic context to ensure the people involved are protected.


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

Michael J. Broyde, “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. 

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

9 replies on “Pluralistic Considerations of Bioethics”

Hi Gabrielle,

Great job with your blogpost! I couldn’t agree with you more on this point: “The medical tourism liaisons at the end of the film speak about attending conferences to set up regulations and guidelines, but lack regard for the human and economic rights of their surrogates.”

When reading this comment, I am reminded of the way that Rudy described his role in the reproductive tourism industry, and the way that they conduct their business. Rudy mentions earlier in the film that such an industry is bound to exist anywhere whether people like it or not, but he does his best to be a middle man who watches after the satisfaction and protection of the consumers and surrogates. He specifically says “we all have the answers” (regarding the medical centers, the information of the surrogates, etc.), suggesting that he believed himself to be an expert voice who could best make the calls for both parties involved. However, at the end of the film, we see Rudy and his associate with a very uninterested attitude towards the idea of bringing a surrogate to their convention. This evidently shows that many actors in the reproductive tourism industry pride themselves in knowing the complexities of the system, and place considerations of bioethics to the side through their belief that they’re doing their best to provide safety in an industry that would exist with or without their interventions. However, it is apparent that they actually know very little about the experiences of surrogates, placing them in poor positions of power to make such weighty decisions for all the people involved.

As highlighted through this week’s readings, decisions regarding the use of reproductive technology are highly personal and require a good deal of thought given the unique nature of every situation. Having a middleman may serve certain purposes, but it can also reduce the amount of access to information, which reduces an individual’s ability to make well-informed decisions. Industry may be important, but complications are bound to continue arising if we remain without nuanced legislations that match the speed at which this industry develops.

Hi Gabriella! I think you did a really good job on your blog post. You summarized all of the readings/film really well and in depth while also tying them all together. From what I understood from the materials, I think the biggest takeaway is that each religion/culture is not very clear cut in their interpretations or rules necessarily. As we are seeing through the class discussions and class materials, most religions/cultures tend to base their ideals on a case by case basis. Like Sabrina had also mentioned, these topics require a lot of thought and there isn’t necessarily a right answer. Because it is so subjective of a topic, it can be very difficult to understand, something that you had mentioned. I also think you point at the very end of your post about the security and protection of the involved people. Like we saw through Made in India, we see that Aasia isn’t cared for nearly as much as Lisa is, despite her being the one to physically carry the twins and have complications. Her not being properly compensated for the gift that she has given uncovered a big issue with the international surrogacy industry. I think it’s important for people to see this and understand it in order to make a difference and try to bring about change.

I appreciate how detailed you were in your discussion of the pieces in Module 5! I think you highlighted the interactions between laws/guidelines and religion/culture very well. This is especially clear in Made in India with Aasia’s journey through and after the pregnancy. Aasia has to move out and away from her children after her husband discovers she is pregnant due to his disapproval. She ends up living in a “surrogate home” set up by the clinic with other pregnant women in similar situations. When faced with immense complications, she delivers the twins early and has to stay in the hospital for an extended period of time. However, she doesn’t initially receive the compensation she was supposed to. This is especially sad/frustrating for her as her body went through a lot to have twins, one more child to carry than she had even expected. She receives little to no help with the Indian government as they merely produce guidelines on surrogacy in India and cannot legally enforce anything.

Hi Gabriella!
I totally agree with the last point you brought up: that there needs to be regulations of surrogacy considering various perspectives through a social and cultural lens. I think that surrogacy is one of many examples that the maturity of the society is not developed enough to match the development of biological technology. Researches made the invention, but the legislators are not ready to make a perfect law to protect the right of both parties involved, and different society is still developing their view towards the technology based on their societal/cultural views. And there will be arguments that arise due to the lack of making laws around it considering all aspects. This can apply to a lot of biological technology breakthroughs. Therefore, I have always argued that this is also part of the scientists’ job to consider the impacts of their researches from multiple lenses while researching it.
I also like the connection you made between Bhattacharya’s and Broyde’s work: “their interpretation of religious notions of bioethics and reproductive technology does not stand as a monolith for the entire religion.” Both religions only provide guidelines that shaped an individual’s decision on assisted reproductive technology. Followers of both religions may have different interpretations of religious guidelines and principles. Still, the significance of these guidelines and principles remain the same for followers regardless of their perspectives.

Great job Gabriella! I enjoyed your review very much and it’s quite comprehensive. All three of these works represent points of view in a complex dialogue regarding reproductive technologies. It’s interesting to see how each perspective is presented and the limitations and strengths of each. As we discussed in class and you’ve mentioned, the point of view taken regarding the Mahābhārata(which I have been informed means “Great India” and is ten times longer than the Iliad) is certainly one of many, and as a universal story of the human condition requires a spectrum of tellings and interpretations that are allowed in Hindu practice. The author, Swasti Bhattacharya, does present true information, though as Professor Seeman pointed out in class, her background and point of view create a point of view, yet may not fulfill the hopes of providing guidance regarding bioethics. To my eye, Michael J. Broyde, “Modern Reproductive Technologies and Jewish Law,” does provide more guidance specific to Jewish law, realizing that the guidance requires interpretation by recognized authorities. As such, the structural features of the ethnographic triangle as regards power, organization, authority, gender roles and government are addressed. Yet in the film, “Made in India,” the presentation is such that the intersection of cultures, beliefs, laws and institutions turn the ethnographic triangle into a Venn diagram resembling the Olympics symbol. Despite this struggle, the presentation 1) as the story of the Switzer family, 2) as the story of America and India, and 3) as the story of reproductive technology is a communication is how we transmit information, misinformation or disinformation that is shared, recorded, and remembered. Whether all is disclosed and visible, or hidden and invisible, it is this history and the resultant sense of emotion that leads to the decision every human heart makes.

BTW: I stumbled on the movie “Made in India”(Sui Dhaaga) and watched it as well. As the Indian husband and wife use sewing machine as they struggle to make their dreams come true, the movie presents a background to the common theme of triumph over adversity.

Hi Gabriella,

I appreciate how when describing the readings for this module you included how each author noted that they were giving their interpretations of the religions/cultures while examining their perspectives on the use of reproductive technologies. Both of them wanted to make sure not to completely try to speak for a religion/culture, which I think is important when looking at how people actually practice their culture/religion within different societies. I think we saw this well in the film “Made in India” of how different religions/cultures crossed with power dynamics can play a role in the ethical dilemmas concerning reproductive technologies. I really like your last point that regulations do need to be put into place that are representative of everyone involved for protection. Thank you for your post.

Good job summarizing all the pieces Gabriella. I agree that often times a middle man may decrease an individual’s ability to make a well informed decision, but I also can not see any legislation being passed to regulate this. Legislation requires some sort of unanimity and order and if this class has taught me anything, it’s that everyone has their own interpretation for what is ethical, sound, and reasonable. That being said, I thought it was wrong that the Muslim lady did not receive proper compensation. It makes me wonder how are we going to ensure the implementation of ethical guidelines?

Great post, Gaby! I think you did a really nice job summarizing each of the pieces of the week while also tying them back to the larger picture of new reproductive technologies. I really like how you reiterated the point that both Broyde and Bhattacharya do not want their interpretations to stand as a monolith for their entire religion. As we can see in each of these cases, however, views towards new reproductive technology are contingent upon a variety of factors – legal guidelines, religious beliefs, cultural norms, and socioeconomic status. The interaction between each of these factors shapes the modern reproductive framework. Your last point is also spot on. I think regulation is key when it comes to assistive reproductive technologies. We need to make sure people like Aasia are protected. But it begs the question of how make such regulations ethical with the proper benefit.

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