In yesterday's post, I told three stories about people who used reproductive technologies to have babies: A mother became pregnant via IVF after her first three children were tragically killed. A couple turned to an Indian surrogate to bear the child they could not. A fictional character wanted a baby for many reasons, stemming from both self-protection and love.
I put people's stories (including my own) at the center of my study of and writing about reproductive ethics. There is a name for moral deliberation that gives significant weight to people's stories: narrative ethics. Traditional ethics uses a juridical process, in which experts consider the moral questions raised by a situation, explore those questions using established ethical principles, and render a judgment based on which principles are most applicable. Narrative ethics is less cut-and-dried. It allows room for amateurs to weigh and discuss the complexities of a particular person's story, acknowledging that such factors as the person's intentions and past experience are relevant.
But there's a problem with focusing exclusively on our and others' stories: Humans are prone to self-absorption, self-pity, and a tunnel vision that puts our own pain, problems, and desire for happiness front and center. We are all too capable of justifying poor decisions and bending or obscuring the truth to suit our needs. In short, we are all sinful and overly caught up in the self.
So practicing narrative ethics does not mean that anything goes, that people have unlimited freedom to pursue whatever they want in isolation from moral, cultural, and emotional consequences. Rather, practicing narrative ethics means that we give weight to the myriad and significant circumstances that lead ...1
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