Modern Technology and Family Planning by Miriam Biber
Volume 2 , Issue 2 (Nov, 1988 | Kislev, 5749)
Recent technological advances have enabled man to increase his ability to control and manipulate his environment. Trips to the moon and space shuttle missions are a testimony to man's capacity to expand the frontiers of his world. Perhaps even more impressive are advances in the field of health care. Siamese twins can be successfully separated and people's lives have been extended through the use of transplanted organs. Yet underlying these advances is often the assumption that there are no limits to what human beings can accomplish. Within this framework, the only obstacles to man's ability to control his world are the limitations imposed by a lack of knowledge or technology.
The Torah however, offers another viewpoint. The Torah teaches us that technology is a tool which can and should be used to enhance the quality and quantity of life. Television, for example, is neither good nor bad. It depends on how it is used. In this way the worth of any such advance is defined by the Torah. Only the applications of technology which are in accordance with Torah values are considered valid. It is, therefore, how much the technology is in accord with Torah values, rather than the technology's sophistication that determines the boundaries of man's attempts to control his environment.
Perhaps one area in which technology has overstepped its moral boundaries is that of ?family planning.? Science now seems to allow us to use our understanding of human reproduction to determine how many children, and at what rate, a couple wants to produce. This approach has been viewed by its proponents as the solution to world-wide problems such as overpopulation and hunger. Perhaps more attractive is that it allows a couple the freedom to choose when and how often they want to have children.
Moral Dilemma of Family Planning
What then is the moral dilemma presented by family planning? First, the notion of controlling the size of one's family conceals the reality that God is the sole giver of life. Creation of a human being is a miraculous event to which the parents are only limited partners relative to God's contribution. By having a child, a couple transforms a potential blessing of life into actuality. Through their physical actions, the parents create a life. However, without God's blessing, no life will ever be created, regardless of the parents' actions. Viewed within this context, family planning incorrectly assumes that life can be created or prevented according to the parents' will. It fails to acknowledge the reality that although human reproduction is governed by predictable rules of nature, birth is only brought about through the work of God.
Evidence of the lack of control people ultimately have over the capacity to reproduce are couples whose attempts at planning a family are unsuccessful. This includes both couples who have children in spite of their efforts to prevent conception, as well as couples who want to have children but are unable to do so. In fact, approximately 10% of all couples attempting to have children at some point experience infertility. This may be viewed as further testimony to human limitations in this area. Often it is couples who are not able to give birth who are the most painfully aware of how God is the true source of life. At times it appears paradoxical that couples will routinely prevent or postpone having a child, while there are so many couples unable to conceive.
Pressures to Limit Family Size
Another aspect of family planning are factors which influence the number of children a couple will decide to have. What was previously considered a very private decision has suddenly become vulnerable to all sorts of social pressures. An excellent example of such pressures was recently told to me by a woman who was expecting her second child (albeit shortly after her first). While pregnant, the woman's neighbors made several comments like ?I hope you are not having a second child. Your body needs a rest.? Similarly, after the birth of the child, the husband's colleague at work commented, ?Congratulations. You have a boy and a girl. You are going to stop now, aren't you?? The couple was understandably upset that the size of their family was now open to public debate. But even more disturbing to them was the idea that societal trends have dictated that a family of more than two children is excessive.
Commitment to a certain lifestyle also seems to govern how many children a couple will try to have. Parents fear not being able to provide their children with the proper physical comforts and/or educational opportunities, and therefore put off the decision to have children. Concern about affording college tuition and mortgage payments, for example, can influence the decision. What is disturbing about this issue are the underlying values. Maintaining a certain level of affluence can take precedence over bringing another life into this world.
So, the next time you hear a plug for family planning, think twice about the arguments you are hearing. As Jews, we have our own values which guide our way of life. We use the Torah to govern many aspects of our lives, ranging from what foods we will eat to whom we will marry. Why shouldn't we rely on the Torah to guide us in this most essential aspect of life, that of developing a family?