A few days ago I commented on a discussion of Catholic teachings with regard to ART generally and IVF in particular. Today I came across a rabbinic opinion about the use of genetic materials after the death of the provider of those materials. That’s a topic I’ve written about in the past.
There are several reasons why Rabbi Yuval Chelow’s views are worthing thinking about. You could talk about comparative religion and how religious law as determined in different faiths. Rabbi Cherlow is clear that his stance is his own. The Roman Catholic church is a bit more hierarchical, although the Sean Savage essay makes it clear that there can be challenges to that hierarchy. That’s an area far beyond my competence, though it’s an interesting one.
You could also just focus on the issues of posthumous reproduction. That’s what the string of earlier posts does, in a variety of contexts.
But there’s another point to be made, one I am not sure I have made before. It seems to me the two recent news items (today’s and the one about Catholic teachings) raise a bigger question about what the role of religion is in formulating ART policy–or even more generally, policy on parentage.
There are many different levels at which you can think about this. Religions provide moral frameworks for thinking about ART issues. If you look carefully, I think you will find that most religious discussions start with some basic tenets–articles of faith, if you will–and proceed by reasoning from those tenets. For individuals who accept the basic tenets, this reasoning provides importance guidance.
Even for people who do not accept the tenets, examining the religious arguments can be useful. It can help you think about underlying principles. I think we all have to start from some set of assumptions, but often those assumptions are hard to get at.
The harder question for me is the role of religion in shaping societal policy towards ART questions. I don’t think particular policies are precluded simply because they happen to coincide with religious teachings, but given a commitment to church and state, we ought not to adopt particular policies because they are religious teaching.
To say that slightly more concretely–I think it is okay to adopt a particular view of posthumous reproduction, say, that happens to coincide with Rabbi Cherlow’s view. It’s not off-limits because a rabbi happens to endorse it. But it is unacceptable to me to adopt that view as broad social policy because it is Halachic law. Similarly, in my view it’s wrong to argue for a general social policy that IVF should be impermissible because that is the teaching of the Roman Catholic Church, but you could perhaps argue for the same policy for reasons not directly grounded in Church teachings.
This distinction is quite important to me. And it raises some challenging problems. An awful lot of underlying assumptions about life and such like are grounded in religious teachings. Some religious teachings may be stated so generally that they actually transcend any particular religion or even all religions and become neutral assumptions. (“Do good” might be one of these, whatever “good” might mean.)
This means is it isn’t always clear to me when arguments for particular policy are grounded in religious traditions. It is, however, important to me to try to figure that out.