One of the most complexing issues facing modern Judaism is whether a child born from donor eggs is Jewish. Reconciling fertility issues with Jewish law has been a conundrum and complicated by not only the rapid advances in fertility treatment, but disagreement between Rabbis. The issue might have become a bit clearer given a recent decision in which an Israeli Health Ministry committee has decided that the religion of the donor trumps the religion of the Intended Mother:
Israel – Many of the country’s most influential rabbinical arbiters have gradually changed their minds from considering the woman who undergoes in-vitro fertilization (IVF) with donor eggs the baby’s halachic mother, to regarding the donor – even if she is not Jewish – as the real mother.
The new opinion, according to Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halperin, means that the government bill to regulate the donation of ova must be passed immediately, even though it is “not perfect.” Halperin, who headed the Health Ministry-appointed committee that prepared the bill going back 10 years, disclosed this at the 10th annual conference of the Puah Institute for Fertility and Medicine According to Halacha in Jerusalem on Wednesday. It was attended by over 1,500 people – men and women strictly separated by a divider – and presented lectures on women’s health issues by leading rabbis and physicians from around the country.
Because of the complete turnover of opinion among leading rabbis as to who is the mother according to Jewish law when ova for IVF are donated, more “Jewish eggs” must be donated so that desperate, infertile Israeli women will not have to go abroad to purchase eggs from non-Jews. After years of deliberations, the bill was passed on its first reading by the previous Knesset, but it still must be given official “continuity” by passing it in the present Knesset.
Due to the long delays by religious parties and others, two secular MKs presented a copy of the government bill as a private members’ bill for passage that would not require continuity status. After many consultations with rabbis, Deputy Health Minister (and Ger hassid) Ya’acov Litzman said recently he will bring it to the committee that grants continuity status so it can move ahead. Halperin said the bill was prepared initially for social reasons, but that these took on added urgency for medical and halachic reasons.
Twenty-nine years ago, after a woman died following her altruistic donation of ova, the ministry set regulations that only a woman undergoing fertility treatments could donate extra ova to another woman. It was meant to protect the health of the donors and discourage women from selling their ova. However, when some years ago a leading gynecologist was caught taking extra ova from women he was treating for infertility and selling them to others, the number of women ready to donate was reduced almost to zero, forcing would-be mothers without healthy ova to go abroad to purchase them. Most of these were produced by non-Jewish women.
With eggs from non-Jewish women now regarded – but not officially stated – by leading rabbinical arbiters as producing non-Jewish babies through IVF, Halperin said at the conference that the bill was even more urgently needed. As there is currently no government listing of Israeli donors of eggs, it was important under the bill to have a registry so that IVF children that plan to marry are not discovered to be biological siblings, he said. If they married, 20 percent would have children with severe defects, as well as severe halachic prohibitions. If a baby is produced from a “non-Jewish egg,” when it is old enough, he or she would have to undergo Orthodox conversion when reaching the age of bar mitzvah or bat mitzvah.
In addition, said Halperin, an Orthodox rabbi and trained gynecologist, the bill would allow thousands of healthy Jewish women to donate ova without undergoing fertility treatments and be compensated for their pain and time, meaning “non-Jewish eggs” would not have to be obtained abroad. “It is absolutely legitimate for rabbinical arbiters to reconsider and change their views,” Halperin stressed, declining to name these leading rabbis. “It will not be an ideal law,” continued Halperin, but it will greatly improve the current situation. It will prevent serious halachic problems, so a great effort must be made to get it passed after waiting for a decade.”
I am not sure that this will be welcome news to those in the Jewish community struggling with fertility issues. There is already a dearth of Jewish donors available. Culturally, Jewish women are more reluctant to donate than many of their counterparts of other faiths. This ruling will only increase the demand for eggs from Jewish donors and is the equivalent of squeezing blood out of a turnip. The laws of supply and demand do not work every well in this industry, largely because of the financial caps that are imposed on how much an egg donor can receive. As a result, unless some of the cultural obstacles that discourage Jewish women from being donors are eliminated, this ruling will only make it more difficult for Jewish Intended Parents as the demand for Jewish donors will increase while the supply remains constant. In other words, a bad situation just got much worse.
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