30 Israelis arrested in Romanian clinic

Foreign Ministry says Bucharest has released 28 of the suspects questioned over human egg trafficking.

Hospital generic 224.88 (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski  [file])
Hospital generic 224.88
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Thirty Israelis suspected of human-egg trafficking were detained Sunday in a fertility clinic in Bucharest. Following an interrogation by Romanian police, 28 of the detainees were released after bail was posted. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yossi Levi confirmed the details of the report to Israel Radio on Monday, and said the Israeli Embassy in the Romanian capital was cooperating with local authorities. "We have full trust in the Romanians," Levi said, adding that he was confident the affair would reach a swift conclusion. According to local media reports, a special police unit raided the clinic and arrested dozens of people, including members of the institution's management. Police suspect the clinic was illegally dealing in human eggs and stem cells. Some of the Israeli women detained are thought to have sold their eggs there. Meanwhile, Deputy Health Minister Ya'acov Litzman has temporarily put on hold a government bill that would expand the harvesting and donation of human ova in Israel, The Jerusalem Post has learned. The bill, which the ministry's legal adviser has been preparing for years, would change the current situation, in which only women undergoing fertility treatment themselves are allowed to donate the ova they don't need. It is otherwise illegal to harvest ova, even for altruistic purposes, due to concerns that people may try to take advantage of the procedure and sell them. Although the bill's stipulations have been approved by a variety of leading rabbinical arbiters, the deputy minister - a Ger Hassid - has said he wants to study the matter and consult with his own rabbis and ethics experts before allowing the legislative process to go ahead. "Rabbi Litzman regards the matter as very sensitive and has given it top priority," said his personal spokesman, Ya'acov Izak. "He has put it on hold for technical reasons, and when he finishes the process, we will make an announcement," Izak added. The arrests in Romania highlighted the urgency of such a law. According to Monday's report, women who want to sell ova have been traveling to Romania and other countries to have them removed, after treatment with fertility drugs and surgery, so they can avoid Israeli legal restrictions. There, women have reportedly received thousands of dollars for each human egg. If performed in Israel, in-vitro fertilization treatment is provided for infertile women at no cost by the health funds, which will cover up to two healthy children for each woman - but the ova must be purchased. When performed abroad, the health funds are not bound to cover any of the treatment costs. A few years ago, gynecologist and fertility expert Prof. Zion Ben-Raphael, then of the Rabin Medical Center, was convicted of "stealing" extra eggs from his patients without their knowledge. He was found to have overstimulated their ovaries with drugs so they would produce an excess of ripe eggs for extraction. That case led to action on the government bill and discouraged many women from donating eggs for altruistic reasons. Dr. Ilya Bar, chairman of the Medical Center for Fertility, charged Monday that the government policy that still prohibits ova donation except under limited circumstances was responsible for the phenomenon of ova sales and implantation abroad. He said the bill would enable many women who wanted ova to get a donation from a friend or relative, an option they would prefer to buying them from a stranger. Bar called for the immediate passage of the government bill and even for donated human eggs to be provided at no cost through the basket of health services. "The sales phenomenon is causing Israel embarrassment, as occurred in Romania," he continued. His center currently deals in ova donations and implantations, for a fee, in Cyprus - where it is legal - and has made it possible for many women to have children. As the island is near Israel, the women can remain there for a short period and return home to rest and await lab results showing whether the fertilization was successful. The center director said he would be "happy" to shut down his business in Cyprus if the procedure were legalized in Israel.