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Monday, March 13, 2006

Halacha and Fertility in the NYT

Very interesting article in the NY Times about a graduate-level Rabbinical course being offered on the halachic issues of infertility medicine. As fertility medicine becomes a method used by more and more Orthodox couples to help nudge nature along in the quest to fulfill "peru urevu" ("be fruitful and multiply"), there are obviously a whole host of halachic questions that come along with it. And in order to answer these questions, these Rabbis have to be familiar with the topic material.
It sounds like the setup of a joke: 20 rabbis walk into a fertility clinic.

But it really happened. One recent Tuesday afternoon in Brooklyn, a group of young men in yarmulkes packed the waiting room of the Genesis Fertility Center, eyes glued to a roundish smudge on a video screen, absorbing a lecture in basic reproductive technology.

"This is the egg," said the center's lab director, sounding like a filmstrip narrator. "Here are zygotes. These are fertilized eggs."

From there things got complicated, touching on everything from the shelf life of sperm samples to the mechanics of intracytoplasmic fertilization to the ethics of pre-implantation genetic diagnosis.

Arcane as this stuff may sound, the rabbis, all graduate students at Yeshiva University, need to know it, and not just for the course they are taking in infertility and Jewish law.

Interestingly, the fertility center that they visited retains a full-time halachik advisor for questions that arise during treatment. This is explained by the revelation in the article that fully half of the clinics patients are Orthodox Jews. Lest anyone think that Judaism is too restrictive in that it requires its adherents to consult a Rabbi even on something as private as fertility treatments, Judaism actually comes out looking pretty good as compared to some of the infertility issues Catholics and Muslims face:
Under Islamic law, for example, a couple may use a surrogate mother, but the husband must take the surrogate as a temporary wife. In the United States, Professor Sachedina said, "This is done very quietly."

A course in medical ethics is required at many Roman Catholic seminaries. The church disapproves of any pregnancy that does not result directly from sexual intercourse.
Which would seem to rule out most procedures that take place in a fertility clinic for devout Roman Catholics.

I know many couples who have struggled with having children naturally, and I know that many of them thank God every day for the huge technological advancements that made it possible for them to give birth to their own, or to even consider it as a possibility. The support that they can receive from their spiritual leaders, who evidently must put long hours into becoming experts in this field must be a great help as well.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

infertility is less a problem than inbreeding. stop marrying your cousins!

4:46 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what a jerk.

2:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The "temporary wives" thing Sachedina speaks of is considered permissible by only a small percentage of Muslims (15% or so), and done by an even smaller percentage of us -- probably 5% or less. And the child borne by such a wife would be *her* child, not the "first wife's." For the overwhelming majority of Muslims, Sunni, infertility treatments are permissible with the use of the husband's sperm and wife's eggs only. I do not think surrogate motherhood is permissible, although I'm not sure.

6:08 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

While I am glad that there are men who are willing to give the gift of life, i was shocked what I read at http://www.keyfess.com/donate_sperm Obviously this guy is not seeing the ability to father a child as the true gift it is and is only seeking monetary gains. It saddens me that someone can be so matter of fact about a situation that so many people like myself take so seriously.

2:03 AM  

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