Monday, July 14, 2014

Why am I so Interested in "Obstetrics and the Curse of Eve?"

This probably should have been the first post in my series on the article "Obstetrics and the Curse of Eve", but I originally thought it would be obvious to my readers why I felt this subject was so important.  However, based on some comments from friends of mine, it seems that many of them didn't understand why I chose to spend so much time on a short article "Obstetrics and the Curse of Eve" in the Hakirah journal.  So let me explain.

I suspect that your rationalist antennae will perk up as much as mine did after you read this explanation.

The modern literature discussing the relationship between Torah and medicine can be divided into several categories.  This may not be an exhaustive list, so I am open to suggestions if you feel I have left something out.  But I would divide it as follows:

  1. The "Laws of  ... " category - This refers to the many handbooks that describe halachot very dryly and in a clear style.  This is permitted, this is not permitted and so on... These books read like instructive handbooks, and generally don't give much instruction regarding the historical, philosophic, or even the halachic developments behind the laws being written.  I am sure many of you have seen these handbooks, and I will not be commenting on these right now, though we probably will at some point in the future of this blog.
  2. The "Medicine of the Torah ..." category - These are the various books describing the medical treatments, cures, and sometimes theories of the Torah, Talmud, Rambam etc.  There are many different angles from which these books approach this topic, some more rationalistic than others, some more mystical than others, and some may be more or less willing to compare the knowledge of the rabbis with the contemporary scientific knowledge. I won't be commenting on this category either during this thread.
  3. The "Ethical guidance of the Torah" category - This includes the vast amount of essays, articles, op-eds, journal entries, and books that have used the Torah sources to develop some sort of ethical or moral idea that the writer believes is "the Torah view" or "the Torah way".  This body of literature assumes that we can learn ethical teachings from the laws of the Torah, and that indeed these teachings can be applied to other areas of life.  We often read about the value the Torah places on things such as the "sanctity of life" or the "responsibility to the other" and so on.  This is the body of literature I am referring to.
  4. The "Torah is a TEA Party Mission Statement" category - This is what you are reading every time an uber-conservative writer uses a verse in the Torah or passage in the Talmud to support his/her ultra conservative views.  This can be about women's role in religion, the Torah's attitude toward homosexuals, or various other topics.  I am NOT taking a position here on these topics, though I will eventually hope to deal with them and others.  All I am saying is that we sometimes find uber-conservatives using what they claim is the Torah to support what are essentially simply just plain old uber-conservative views. This category also includes medical topics, such as abortion, end-of-life issues, organ donation and more. I am not dealing with this category in this particular thread, but I have dealt with some of this in previous threads.
  5. The "Torah is the Huffington Post of the Ancient Times" category - This is the exact opposite of category # 4.  Whenever an uber-liberal expresses his/her uber-liberal views and then uses the Torah sources to back up the idea, he/she is writing literature of this type.  This happens often with environmental issues, social justice issues, and more.  But it also happens often with medical issues, and THIS is what the current thread is about.  I have seen this happen with the scary proliferation of people who don't vaccinate their children, as they may often claim some Torah source for their neglect.  I hope to deal with vaccinations specifically in the future, but I would refer you to the excellent article by Dr. Eddie Reichman about this topic. This brings us to the topic of our current thread, "Obstetrics and the Curse of Eve."
(I hope I have not offended anyone when I used the terms "uber-conservative" or "uber-liberal",  I used them for dramatic effect only. I do not mean to demean anyone who holds these views, in fact, in some cases I may even hold such views myself! I also beg you to not make assumptions about my personal beliefs on a particular topic. I hope that you have learned by now, if you have read anything on this blog, that I freely share my opinions about any topic I am discussing.  However, I will never give in to the temptation of giving out sound bytes of what I think about this or that topic.  If I write about something, it will take me time to develop the sources and reasoning behind my thoughts.  You can then agree or disagree as you see fit.  I am sorry that some may find it boring if they can't get a juicy sound byte from me, but if that's what you want, find another blog.)

The writers of the article of interest are expressing views that are mostly compatible with an entire popular movement in our culture, namely, the "home birth" movement.  It is far beyond the scope of my blog to describe the various controversies relevant to the home birth movement.  However, I can tell you that there are many outspoken critic, including many celebrities, who have criticised various aspects of modern obstetric medicine, especially in the US.  You can follow this link to one of the most influential films called "The Business of Being Born" if you want to find out more about this topic.  This movement has criticised, often rightly, aspects of modern childbirth including using too many drugs, too many surgical interventions, too little personal control over the process, and too much greed.

As an obstetrician myself, I obviously have a lot to say about the topic, and some of it may surprise you. Most importantly, I believe in listening to anyone and everyone that has a reasonable, well researched, and helpful comment or suggestion.  The home birth movement has accomplished a lot regarding the way women in labor are treated, but there are still many differences of opinion, especially between the extremes.  I would be happy to discuss these issues specifically, but for now I want to continue this thread.

The writers of the article are presenting what they believe is a Torah based justification for their belief in home births and the other issues that are related such as drugs in labor and so on.  They may or may not be right, and after you read my blog series I hope you will form your opinion on this matter.

In my first post, I quoted their claim that the Halachic authorities recognized that although a pregnant woman is in a life threatening situation, it is not quite as life threatening as an ordinary critically ill patient.  They made that claim in order to set up their argument that the Torah sources recognize that a birthing woman is undergoing a natural process that is not as dangerous as someone who has an actual critical illness.  They brought some sources that supported this idea, and I brought sources that demonstrated that many, if not most, authorities did not make this distinction at all, and in fact they held that a birthing woman is in exactly the same category as any critically ill patient.

I hope that you now understand why this issue is so important to me, and why it should be so important to anyone interested in rationalist medical halacha.  The way I approach this topic, I believe, should be the way any halachic rationalist should approach anyone who writes an article or book that fits into the "Torah is the Huffington Post of the Ancient Times" category.

We can now move on with our analysis.  I hope you stay along for the ride.

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