(photo credit: Associated Press)
Robert Edwards of Britain won the 2010 Nobel Prize in medicine this month for
the development of in-vitro fertilization (IVF).
technique, in which egg cells are fertilized outside the body and implanted in
the womb, was developed together with Patrick Steptoe, who died in
1988. Since Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through IVF, was born
in 1978, some four million children have been conceived using this
Today between 1 percent and 2% of all babies born in the US
and other developed countries each year are conceived through IVF.
Israel the numbers are even higher: about 4% of approximately 160,000 babies
born annually here – both Jewish and Arab – are a product of IVFs, according to
Judy Siegel-Itzkovich, The Jerusalem Post
’s health and science
Generous state funding of fertility treatments partially
explains the high percentage of local IVF births. But this public health policy
is itself a part of a deep Jewish dedication to childbearing. Call it a Zionist
answer to the Holocaust or perhaps the Jewish commitment to continuity and
Whatever the reason, Jews, at least those living in Israel,
will go to great lengths to have children, including via IVF.
Nobel Prize Committee’s celebration of all this life was not shared by
all. Monsignor Carrasco, the Vatican’s spokesman on bio-ethics, said the
Nobel Prize Committee’s choice was “completely out of order.” Because IVF
disconnects the sexual act from the procreation, the parents’ feelings of
responsibility for child’s upbringing could be dampened, resulting in the
breakdown of the family institution, Church doctrine claims.
no sense. Why should a couple that finally succeeds in having a child through
IVF, after failing for years to bear children naturally and after going through
the hell of fertility treatments, feel less attached to its offspring? The
Vatican does not say.
Another problem the Church has with IVFs is the
creation of zygotes or fertilized eggs which never are allowed to
“Without [Edwards’ and Steptoe’s] treatment, there would be no
market for human eggs,” Carrasco told Italy’s Ansa news agency. “And there would
not be a large number of freezers filled with embryos in the world.”
might be true, but there would also be four million fewer people and their
offspring in the world. Without these two men’s technological advance,
scientists would not be able to conduct stem cell research on the frozen
pre-embryos left over by couples who used IVF to have babies. We would have to
look elsewhere to find cures for some of our worst diseases – from cancer, heart
attacks, strokes and Parkinson’s, to spinal cord injuries.
contrast, has a radically different outlook. The egg and sperm providers
are considered the full-fledged mother and father of an IVF-generated offspring,
according to most rabbis. In fact, the two are fulfilling the commandment to be
fruitful and multiply. Also, if undertaken for the sake of procreation by an
otherwise infertile couple, the IVF procedure does not violate the prohibition
against destroying sperm.
Regarding the use of pre-embryos for stem cell
research, Judaism is open to the idea. However, unlike Confucian China, for
instance, where stem cell research is rampantly unregulated, Judaism strikes a
balance between respecting the life potential of a fertilized egg and its
Judaism prohibits abortion unless the fetus poses a
threat to the mother’s life. The Talmud, however, maintains that during the
first 40 days of gestation, the embryo is “merely water,” though its potential
for life is respected. An egg fertilized outside a woman’s body, which will
never develop on its own into a living thing, has even a lower
Out of a pragmatic reverence for both life and healing, Judaism
allows stem cell research as well as IVFs. Perhaps Catholicism should reconsider
its position in light of Judaism’s teachings.