Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Holy Trinity: God, Ethics, and ART?

This is a very long-overdue post, and I apologize for my inconsistency these past few months.  Between two jet-setter holidays in a week (Ohio, back to New York to work 3 days, then off to Disney World for NYE, and back home all in a matter of less than 2 weeks), a new semester of classes to teach, and more out-of-town guests than I can keep track of -- yes, I am now a destination vacation - there is nary a second of free-time that I am not doing grocery shopping, laundry, dishes, or house-cleaning to prepare for my next visitor...well, except when I'm shopping!

Anyways, quick update - this weekend is the Anonymous Father's Day Premier, and I am so ecstatic to spend the weekend among DC friends...Kathleen LaBounty, Stephanie Blessing, Karen C, Alana Newman, Olivia Pratten, just to name a few!!  I promise I will post reviews/pictures/etc next week, so look forward to that!
Yet, it is this premier and much of the hoopla surrounding it that has made me think.  It started last month when I attended the Institute for American Values conference, and while I was uncomfortable, I couldn't quite put into words what it was - at least not in a way that would not offend people, many of whom I care deeply about and respect their opinions despite our different views.  But there was a bit of a confrontation on PCVAI this week, trying to bring religion into the discussion of donor conception.  And while the original poster did not intend to have a theology course in the midst, it turned into that and there were multiple members commenting both to the board as well as privately about the direction that the discussion was moving.

So that was what sparked me to try to reflect on this feeling I have had for many years.  This is not the first time I have discussed this idea (back in 2009 I wrote Religion isn't the answer (or even the question)), but as I have brought up recently, I think my public views and my rhetoric have calmed since then and I am able to think and write more rationally than the rants that overran my earlier posts.  Yet, strangely enough my opinions on this topic have changed very little since 2009.  But perhaps I am just more diplomatic now.

But even with my outcries, it seems they fall on deaf ears, as the assumption that the issue of donor conception is one that is on the left-right/liberal-conservative spectrum, is constantly mentioned.

If you don't know what I am talking about you must not read/see any media mentions of donor conception, and more specifically the issue of anonymity and rights for donor-conceived people.  Because in almost any publication, regardless of the actual views of the source, the interviewer, and the interviewee, there are those who scream that they are conservative/pro-religion advocates and that is reason to ignore them.  And while I tend to follow that rationale in other areas - even perhaps to a fault - as any human being would, I am outraged when someone tries to put me in the same bubble that I so despise.

And the irony is, in many cases the individual/organization that is being attacked is not in fact conservative/religious, but rather it is society that places that label on them.

So I am going to spend some time:
a) comprehending this connection between ethics and religion
b) trying to dispel some of the fallacies of this connection
c) directing this correction towards the fallacies of connecting ART with religion rather than with ethics

Ethics = God?? Not in my house!!

re·li·gion [ri-lij-uhn]


1. a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.

eth·ics [eth-iks]

plural noun

1. (used with a singular or plural verb) a system of moral principles: the ethics of a culture.

2. the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class of human actions or a particular group, culture, etc.: medical ethics; Christian ethics.

3. moral principles, as of an individual: His ethics forbade betrayal of a confidence.

4. (usually used with a singular verb) that branch of philosophy dealing with values relating to human conduct, with respect to the rightness and wrongness of certain actions and to the goodness and badness of the motives and ends of such actions.

I felt compelled to look up exactly what religion and ethics are defined as - I wanted to see if there really was an overlap.  And as you can see, other than the example of "Christian ethics" there is no mention of religion in the definition of ethics.  And there is no mention of *ethics* in the definition of religion.  So from this point on, we can assume that strictly based on logic, religion and ethics are two entirely different concepts.

The closest one might get to saying that they are the same or similar is in the idea of moral code.  But what is moral code?  Apparently the Catholic Church thinks that moral code is implies simply redistricting their priests found guilty of molesting alter boys, so they can find new virginal adolescents.

However, if we actual break down what morals and ethics are, we will find that morals are overarching ideas of good and bad - moral is from the Latin moralitas, meaning "proper behavior".  Immoral, therefore, means improper or bad behavior.  Therefore, I guess we can now officially say that the cast of [insert cliche Bravo/E! reality show here] truly is immoral!!

Never mind certain celebrity New York residents...cough, cough.

So lets compare morals and ethics.  Ethics, also known as moral philosophy, is based on reason and logic.  Morals, on the other hand, are based on values and faith.  Therefore, it is only reasonable that morals are connected to religion.  Though obviously, one can be raised with very good morals and be raised atheistic, those morals that they are being raised by are still dictated often enough by the society or culture of their environment, and those cultural norms or cultural values are usually based on some religious code of context.  And remember, that religious code of context doesn't imply Christianity.  Rather, Christianity has a superiority complex in the West and attempt to push their norms on everyone else.  Case-in-point, missionaries to exotic locations to "convert the natives".

But ethics....

Ethics is the science behind morality, if that makes at all sense.  Let me give you an example of the difference.  Morality is when "they" say something is bad and therefore don't do it because "they" said so.  Ethics is the reasoning that thinks well in principle we could do this, but should we, and why?

So now that we've cleared up that little misunderstanding that religion is NOT ethics, lets move on to how this relates to ART...assisted reproductive technologies.

Adam and Eve had a baby...or they didn't, who cares!!

One thing about religion that really irks me is that they like to get their noses into everyone else's business.  They're like those Mean Girls from High School, always gossiping and accusing, and judging everyone else based on their own skewed views of the world.  It's been said many times that every war on earth, since the beginning of time, has been fought over religion.  For people who claim they are "moral beings", that's a lot of dead people's blood on their hands.  I guess it's only a sin when that person is a fetus....  Go figure!?

It's this insane belief that [some] religious organizations should accept, judge, and condemn people, based on things that that person does or doesn't do.  But that's neither here-nor-there.  The point is, they judge.  And boy do they judge.  The list of dos seems to shrink whereas the list of don'ts seems to grow.  Don't have an abortion.  Don't be a homosexual.  Don't engage in pre-marital sex.  Don't even think about sex, masturbation, etc.  Don't support physician-assisted suicide.  Don't support stem cell research.  Don't, Don't, Don't!  It's like the reverse of the Nike slogan.  Just Don't Do It!!  Hmmm, maybe I should go into marketing.....

But other than the Catholic Church, who does have an official opposition to ART:

Catechism of the Catholic Church -- Part Three: Life in Christ, Section Two: The Ten Commandments, Article 6: The Sixth Commandment, III: The Love of Husband and Wife:
2376 Techniques that entail the dissociation of husband and wife, by the intrusion of a person other than the couple (donation of sperm or ovum, surrogate uterus), are gravely immoral. These techniques (heterologous artificial insemination and fertilization) infringe the child's right to be born of a father and mother known to him and bound to each other by marriage. They betray the spouses' "right to become a father and a mother only through each other."166 
2377 Techniques involving only the married couple (homologous artificial insemination and fertilization) are perhaps less reprehensible, yet remain morally unacceptable. They dissociate the sexual act from the procreative act. the act which brings the child into existence is no longer an act by which two persons give themselves to one another, but one that "entrusts the life and identity of the embryo into the power of doctors and biologists and establishes the domination of technology over the origin and destiny of the human person. Such a relationship of domination is in itself contrary to the dignity and equality that must be common to parents and children."167 "Under the moral aspect procreation is deprived of its proper perfection when it is not willed as the fruit of the conjugal act, that is to say, of the specific act of the spouses' union .... Only respect for the link between the meanings of the conjugal act and respect for the unity of the human being make possible procreation in conformity with the dignity of the person."168 
2378 A child is not something owed to one, but is a gift. the "supreme gift of marriage" is a human person. A child may not be considered a piece of property, an idea to which an alleged "right to a child" would lead. In this area, only the child possesses genuine rights: the right "to be the fruit of the specific act of the conjugal love of his parents," and "the right to be respected as a person from the moment of his conception."169

No other religious organizations seem all that upset about donor conception, and many even strongly support it.  And that's for another day.

And while I agree to an extent with the Catholic Church's views about being opposed to ART, it doesn't mean that either a) I am religious, or b) that this is a religious issue.  The Catholic Church has a lot of say on issues that have absolutely nothing to do with religious or religious issues.  So why should we assume that just because the Catholic Church opposes donor conception, that that makes it a religious point of view??

And lets be honest, most practicing Catholics today disregard what the Church officially states anyways.  And those that are outcrying against donor conception usually aren't doing it because of what is stated above, but because of a variety of other views that they have that they feel make ART bad.  They are opposed to stem cell research, and ovum donation and IVF fuel stem cell research.

THAT, my friends is why they are opposed to donor conception.

Not because our rights are being treaded on, but rather zygotes (not even embryos, people!!!) are being used to save actual living and breathing individual's lives!!!  And those same zygotes are being thrown away, and not used to create babies, and that apparently equates to abortion.

And lets not even get me started on the difference between being pro-choice, pro-life, and pro-abortion.  I am totally pro-life...I support living.  I also support choices.  I don't want some old dude in Washington telling me what I can and can't do with my  body.  But that doesn't make me pro-abortion.  I'm not telling all my friends who are currently pregnant to go out and get an abortion.  I don't even advocate for young girls with no means to support themselves to go out and get an abortion.  I advocate for them to be able to be educated to make an informed it abortion, adoption, or motherhood.

But anyways, I refuse to let myself run off on a tangent, this post is already getting too long as it is.  And I'm getting that dreadful sense that I've forgotten where I was going with this....

Oh yes, that's right!  The issue of ART is an ethical issue, but that does not make it a religious issue.

Ethics and ART

I have discussed in-depth how and why anonymous donors are unethical, and why I personally disagree with donor conception on an ethical level.  This is nothing new to this blog, and I'm not going to reiterate my views.

But I will mention that, as an ethical issue, donor conception is very complex.  Most ethical issues are complex by nature.  Because they require us to think practically, and logically, with reason...something that many people simply cannot or refuse to do.

The idea that creating a child who will purposefully be denied the right to know half of their identity and be denied the right to be raised by that individual is an ethical issue.

The idea that men and women are paid to create children, essentially they are selling their children, is an ethical issue.

The idea that individuals/couples are buying children is an ethical issue.

The idea that there is a financial transaction directly connected to the creation of a human being is an ethical issue.

And I of course could go on...

But my point is, treat donor conception, anonymous donors, ART, etc, as an ethical issue.  Take religion out of the context.  Think about it with logic and reasoning - e.g. paid donors leads to donating for longer periods of time, longer times donating means more children created, more children created means more possibility for incest and genetic conditions to arise.  Not religiously-held much as I am grateful for the people who side with us, I don't want to be labeled as such.  It is through this means that we will break free of these associations and be able to move towards regulation and public discussion that does not revolve around name-calling and pigeonholing our point of view with one that does not accurately reflect all our views and values, but also that can be easily discounted.