The Role of Religion: One Rabbi’s View About Posthumous Reproduction

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.


2 responses to “The Role of Religion: One Rabbi’s View About Posthumous Reproduction

  1. marilynn huff

    I think having a venue for religious freedom means that our elected officials are required to establish some bare minimum rules for people to follow and some bare minimum consequences for not behaving according to those rules. Religions always hold followers to a higher standard of personal behavior within their families and communities than the law. Religion can mandate that people perform charitable work or give up a portion of their income to fund church projects etc. Religion can prohibit behaviors based on followers believing in that those behaviors will unleash the rather of an unseen higher power. People need rules to follow that don’t require leaps of faith or belief in the existence of unseen higer powers. The law for the masses expects people to not harm anyone as they themselves go about their own business and if they do harm someone in the course of their daily activities they need to do more than say 10 hail mary’s.

    The law needs to be simple and logical it should not require an action with out a clear reason for the requirement and that reason has to make sense without religion first. The law does not limit people from adhering to a higher standard of care than the minimum code of conduct. That minimum code of conduct does not build the character traits that virtually every religion embraces, there are no legal obligations to be brave and risk your own life to save someone else, there are no legal obligations to share what you’ve worked hard for with those less fortunate, there are no legal obligations to be loyal and steadfast or faithful within a marriage, none of that none of the things that give people moxi and character are covered by the law nor should they be. People are free to be cold and jelous, disinterested and apathetic which is ok and as it should be. There has to be a law that asks the people to make no leaps of faith beyond what is tangable obvious, and equitable. Religion will take care of the higher standards that make society a more interesting place to be providing the rules of the religion don’t require people to trample on the ability of their neighbor to live peacefully and undisturbed.
    Religion has no place in law period there are plenty of good logical reasons driving the cannons we lazily attribute to some abstract morality. We just have to stretch our minds a bit to articulate that changeable logic thats already there.

  2. marilynn huff

    last three lines would have been erased if I did not have such terrible ADD. Could you please delete if you have time?

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