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.