Thank you for joining us for Lesson Four of Medicine and Morals: New Beginnings. The following is a brief summary of what we learned:
The need to address the permissibility of the various reproductive technologies is of paramount importance. The Torah documents the deep pain associated with infertility. In addition, Jewish thought views procreation as a religious obligation. Each child who is born plays a fundamental role in developing the spiritual potential of our universe. Thus, for both empathic and spiritual reasons, there is strong incentive to find ways to assist people in their efforts to bear children.
The use of donor sperm raises halachic concerns. Some of the questions revolve around the issue of family: Does using sperm from another man infringe upon the relationship of husband and wife? Will such procedures weaken the desire to marry? Another concern is the possibility of incest should siblings unwittingly marry one another. Given the anonymous nature of sperm donation, this is not a spurious concern, and cases of this kind have been documented
Artificial insemination by husband and IVF using gametes of husband and wife would appear to bypass all these concerns. However, this is only the case if adequate precautions are taken to ensure that there is no inadvertent mix-up of gametes. At this time, fertility clinics are not governed by uniform standards to prevent errors. Some rabbis advocate having independent inspectors to ensure mistakes don’t occur.
In the process of preparing embryos for IVF, it is often the case that more pre-embryos are created than can be implanted. These pre-embryos can be very useful for embryonic stem cell research. Yet a national debate currently rages about the ethical acceptability of this research. Rabbis who have been consulted about this issue note that Halachah permits the destruction of a pre-embryo that will not be used by the parents. Thus, using these pre-embryos for research would be permitted and perhaps even better than outright destruction. “Adopting” pre-embryos by implanting them into other women, an idea advocated by some opponents of embryonic stem cell research, raises many halachic issues similar to those that arise when donor sperm is used to induce pregnancy.
We concluded the lesson by raising some important points: There is no obligation to engage in ART. The mitzvah is to attempt to bear children in the usual manner. Intervention is optional. Those who have not yet succeeded in bearing children should on the one hand stay hopeful and optimistic. On the other hand, they must know that when one cannot fulfill an obligation for reasons beyond their control they have fulfilled their religious obligation and are not held liable for this failure. Moreover, G-d considers it as if the mitzvah was actually done. Finally, they should find comfort in the thought that every person has the opportunity and possibility of finding meaning in life and even the childless can achieve an everlasting legacy through their actions and good deeds.
Some people will express this legacy through fostering or mentoring a child. The Torah considers aiding in the physical and spiritual development of others as analogous to giving birth to them.
We look forward to seeing you next week for Lesson Five of Medicine and Morals in which we will explore the Jewish attitude regarding the ethical treatment of the mentally disabled.