A Jewish View of Infertility and its Treatment
Infertility is not a recent phenomenon. On the contrary, three of the four biblical matriarchs had infertility. The Torah, or Old Testament, documents the suffering of Sarah, Rebecca and Rachel in Genesis due to infertility. The narrative details much of the human drama between the matriarchs, 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. It is said that if natural reproduction does not succeed, it gives 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 assisted reproduction was successful, and God finally remembered Rachel, and she conceived and bore Joseph.
Modern couples have access to various treatment options, depending on their circumstances. Under Jewish law, medical intervention, including IVF, is permitted and encouraged when needed. The primary concern is the correct identification of sperm, eggs and embryos. Any gap in tracing these would raise serious halachic implications for the child's identity. Kosher IVF involves the verification of samples and integrity of the procedures by having a Rabbi witness each step of the process. They supervise all procedures to ensure the continuity of people and their samples. At Genea, individual incubators are used for each embryo, 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 "mere water". A foetus before 40 days gestation is not considered an actual person, and extrapolating the destruction of such a foetus is allowed by Jewish law. If the pre-embryo may be destroyed, it can be used for research 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.