A Jewish View of Infertility and its Treatment

Genea Jewish blog viewInfertility is not a recent phenomenon. On the contrary, three of the four biblical matriarchs suffered from infertility. The Torah, or Old Testament, documents in Genesis the suffering of Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel due to infertility. The narrative details much of the human drama in the relationships between the matriarchs and their husbands, and the matriarchs and God.

Jewish law and assisted reproduction

In the 21st century, most rabbis agree that the commandment to populate the world is so important that many technological developments for assisting infertile couples are permitted by Jewish law. They say that in case natural reproduction does not succeed, it gives a tacit approval for assisted reproduction. The implied flexibility of the Torah regarding assisted reproduction is not surprising. After all, the three matriarchs dealt in different ways with their tragic circumstances. Sarah bitterly resigned herself to not having children, and even laughed cynically when presented with the possibility of conception at an advanced age. Rebecca was more positive. She asked Isaac to intervene on her behalf and Isaac’s prayers were answered. Rachel, on the other hand, used herbs called dudaim. This form of assisted reproduction achieved its goal. Rachel was finally remembered by God, and she conceived and bore Joseph.

Kosher IVF

Nowadays couples have access to a range of treatment options, depending on their circumstances. Under Jewish law, medical intervention including IVF is permitted, and encouraged when needed. The primary concern is correct identification of sperm, eggs and embryos. Any gap in tracing these would raise serious halachic implications for the identity of the child. Kosher IVF involves the verification of samples and integrity of the procedures by having a Rabbi or his or her delegate witness each step of the process. They supervise all procedures to ensure that there is continuity of people and their samples. At Genea, embryos have their own incubators, and the Rabbi places a special seal on canisters for frozen embryos.

Status of the pre-implantation embryo

Judaism could be unique in its view on the status of the pre-implantation embryo. Until 40 days, most rabbis consider an embryo to be "mere water". A foetus prior to 40 days gestation is not considered to be an actual person and, extrapolating, the destruction of such a foetus is not forbidden by Jewish law. If the pre-embryo may be destroyed, it certainly may be used for research purposes and other life-saving work, including stem cell research and saviour siblings. Nevertheless, it is important to realise that this conclusion is not accepted unanimously.
Disclaimer: Please note that this is a Genea Group blog and as such information may not be relevant for all clinics. We advise that you consult clinics directly for further information