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(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimksi )
Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman (UTJ) promised a Knesset committee on Monday that he will do his utmost to find a solution for thousands of women who need ova to become pregnant but have been unable to obtain them because of a shortage of donor eggs and the lack of government regulation.
He was speaking before the Knesset Labor, Social Affairs and Health Committee session convened urgently after the arrest of Israeli gynecologists and fertility specialists in an Israel-owned clinic that was raided last week by Romanian police. The doctors and others arrested were accused of marketing ova bought from poor Romanian women and sold at a high profit to Israeli women desperate for ova.
A government bill has been in the works in the Health Ministry's legal department for a decade, but it has taken so many years to emerge because of the extremely complicated ethical, commercial, religious, legal and medical issues.
It was brought up in the previous Knesset for its second and third reading after receiving support from a wide variety of rabbinical arbiters, but United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni opposed it at the last minute.
To proceed in the current Knesset, it requires a vote to give it continuity status so it would need only one final vote in the plenum to pass.
Knesset Committee chairman MK Haim Katz (Likud) said, "there is wide agreement about the real need to urgently advance this bill. The committee expects that the government will ask for continuity status on it. There are also a number of private member's bills with similar clauses, and if the government bill is not advanced, the committee will advance them."
The bills would change the situation in which only women undergoing fertility treatment themselves are able to donate ova they do not need.
A few years ago, gynecologist and fertility expert Prof. Zion Ben-Raphael, then of the Rabin Medical Center, was convicted for "stealing" extra eggs from his patients without their knowledge. He was found to have overstimulated their ovaries with drugs so that they would produce an excess of ripe eggs for extraction.
That case led to action on the government bill and discouraged many women from giving eggs for altruistic reasons - thus causing the severe shortage of human ova for donation.
Litzman said that when taking office, he was hit immediately with the H1N1 virus threat and kept busy with the health sections of the Economic Arrangements Bill. He has consulted already with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar and studied the ova issue.
"I promise that I will not waste time. I feel the pain of women, so no one need preach to me. There are halachic and legal problems in the government bill, but I promise to cope with them. After I study it, I will say something clearer."
Rabbi Dr. Mordechai Halperin, a gynecologist by training and member of the Health Ministry's committee on medicine and Jewish law that helped prepare the government bill, said many discussions had been held on it with leading rabbinical arbiters as well as Health and Justice Ministry experts.
"The bill will improve the situation of the women both on humane and halachic grounds. It won't solve all the problems, but there is no doubt it will prevent major complications in the future," Halperin said.
MK Ahmed Tibi (United Arab List-Ta'al), also a gynecologist by training, said he has tried to push the bill through since the 15th Knesset. He called on the government to bring home the two imprisoned physicians who own the Romanian clinic, saying they are "of high quality, respectable and have proper intentions, but they suffered defamation of their character."