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.