There’s been extensive discussion in the comments on an earlier post about a teacher fired from a Catholic school for using ART. I just posted an update–the teacher won a jury verdict. But I wanted to take this in a slightly different direction.
In the comments someone linked to this essay which I had been meaning to write about. It’s from the New York Times and the title gives a fair view of the topic: “What Makes A Jewish Mother.”
Caren Chesler, who wrote the essay, gave birth to a child using an egg from an anonymous provider. The question she focuses on is whether her son is considered to be Jewish. In general, the child of a Jewish mother is Jewish–it’s matrilineal. But is Chesler the mother in terms of Jewish law.
I really do think I could have answered this question without doing a whole lot of research: It depends who you ask. Chesler talks about a general consensus that existed in the 1990s that the woman who gave birth is the mother–but I wonder if that really was such a clear consensus. As my title notes, with two Jews you can get three opinions, so I’d bet there were some rabbis in the 1990s who disagreed with what may well have been a majority view. In any event, it is clear that there’s a range of views on the question now. This has come up here before, in a slightly different context. The question in that earlier post is whether you could pay a premium to get eggs from Jewish woman.
In any event, it isn’t my intention to discuss the intricacies of Jewish law here. That’s way beyond my competence. Instead, I just wanted to offer a couple of observations.
First, you can see that Jewish law stands in contrast to Catholic teaching to the extent there is official Catholic doctrine on ART while most rabbis have their own takes on Jewish law. There’s a much broader diversity of views, though I think it safe to say few rabbis rule out all ART in the manner that Catholic teaching does.
This leads me to the second and more important observation: Even if you consider only a religious framework, there are many different ways to approach the questions raised with ART. You could say the woman who gives birth is the mother. You could say the woman who provides the egg is the mother. You could say they both are mothers. You could probably say that neither of them are mothers. Or you could say that in order to tell which of the two women is the mother you need more information–like what the intent of the women is. (Is the woman providing the egg an egg donor or an intended parent? Is the woman who is pregnant a surrogate or an intended parent?)
I enjoy the conversations that go on here on the blog. They push me to think about different points of view that I probably don’t take into account nearly enough. But I don’t think one can really hope to reach agreement on the answers to questions like who is the mother. It all depends on what you value, what you believe and/or what you assume.
This is why I think it is incredibly important to identify beliefs and assumptions and to scrutinize the logic of arguments. We can agree that arguments be sound and that assumptions be clearly identified. But it doesn’t seem likely to me that we’ll all agree to start with the same assumptions and values, and so it’s hardly likely we’ll end up in the same place.