Judaism and IVF

"Be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue It" Bereshit 1:28 

The Jewish attitude towards procreation is derived from the first commandment of God to Adam to 'Be fruitful and multiply'. Judaism allows the practice of all techniques of assisted reproduction when the oocyte and spermatozoon originate from the wife and husband respectively. 

For most Jews, Judaism is not well defined. There are three main branches to Judaism: "Orthodox," "Conservative," and "Reformed." Reform Judaism was introduced by German Jews in the 1830's and 1840's. The conservative synagogue began in 1887 as a reaction not to Orthodoxy but to Reform. Only about 10% of Jews worldwide are Orthodox, and only Orthodox Judaism is quite well defined. Approximately 85% of Jews worldwide are "Reformed," and these Jews are, for the most part, secular. About 5% of Jews are "Conservative," which is a sort of a hybrid between Orthodox and Reformed Judaism. 

The Jewish attitude towards procreation is derived from the first commandment of God to Adam to 'Be fruitful and multiply'. Judaism allows the practice of all techniques of assisted reproduction when the oocyte and spermatozoon originate from the wife and husband respectively. 


Extra embryos:

The fate of extra embryos could include:

(A) Use of them by the original couple to establish future pregnancies

(B) Destruction of the extra embryos (permissible halachically if this is done passively, by letting them thaw out and die on their own).

(C) The use of these extra embryos for research. Since this is an active process and results, ultimately, in their destruction, this is not generally acceptable by Orthodox rabbis. A different opinion suggest that tt should be permitted to create a pre-implantation embryo for fertility research if there is a real chance that the sperm owner may benefit and have a child as a result of this research. Jewish law forbids destruction and use of a pre-embryo as long as it has a potential for implantation. An in vitro blastocyst that has hatched from its zona pellucida and lost its implantation potential may be kept for research. It is prohibited to use a post-implantation pre-embryo for research, unless the research is essential to save the embryo's life. 

(D) Donation of the extra embryos to another infertile couple. This option is not approved by many Orthodox rabbis because the "adopted" child may inadvertently marry his/her genetic sibling, resulting in incest.


Kosher certification:

Some Orthodox rabbis would like to see trained supervisors present during IVF of Jewish couples. The supervisors will reportedly be present during the entire procedure to ensure that halachic protocol is followed, and that meticulous attention to the accuracy in the process is maintained. 

Donor Sperm:

While the use of donor sperm is not considered adultery per se (since sexual relations are not involved), it is still considered an abomination by many, and is strongly discouraged. 

Egg donation:

There are rabbinical authorities who reject outright the idea of using donor eggs. Others believe that a woman may receive donor eggs as long as her husband has consented.

The question of who is the mother is extremely complicated to answer. According to traditional Judaism, the status of "who is a Jew" is determined by whether or not the mother is Jewish. What happens when the genetic mother is a different person from the gestational mother? Which mother is considered the mother for the halachic decision on religious status? If the genetic mother is not Jewish and the gestational mother is, what is the status of that infant? Some think that if the egg is from a Nonjewish woman, then the baby is not Jewish. On the other hand many halachic authorities regard the birth mother, rather than the egg donor, as having maternal status.


Cryopreservation of pre-embryos is at present frequently practised in IVF programs.

The freezing of the pre-embryo raises the basic question whether cryopreservation, which stops the development and growth of the embryo, cancels all rights of the pre-embryo's father. With regard to the mother, the problem is simplified, since the embryo is transferred into her uterus later and will renew the mother-embryo relationship. The relationship between the father, whose main function is to fertilise the oocyte in order to form the pre-embryo, and the child may be severed by the period of freezing. Freezing of sperm and pre-embryo is permitted in Judaism only when all other measures have been taken to ensure that the father's identity will not be lost.

Surrogate motherhood

The Jewish religion does not forbid the practice of surrogacy. According to Jewish law, if partial surrogacy is practised - a strange woman is inseminated with the sperm of a man and she completes the pregnancy on agreement - the child born should be handed over to the owner of the sperm. In case of full surrogacy, when the embryo is transplanted into another woman, the question is not resolved, as discussed in the case of ovum donation. From the religious point of view, the child will belong to the father who gave the sperm and to the mother who gave birth.

Genetic screening

Screening for genetic diseases is permitted. 

Fetal reduction:

Reduction on demand is unacceptable. This would only be permitted if the doctor has determined that some fetuses must be eliminated or they will all die. Even then, the decision is a very sensitive one and must be made by the doctor.

Adopted from a paper published by: Dr. Miryam Z. Wahrman is a Professor of Biology at William Paterson College in Wayne, New Jersey. She set up and ran the first In Vitro Fertilization laboratory in New York City. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/Judaism/ivf.html and, Evaluation and treatment according to the jewish law
By Joseph G Schenker, http://www.obgyn.net/women/women.asp?page=/eago/art13

Stem cells research:

The below was taken from a letter published by the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations, one of the most important Jewish organizations in America in support of the Castle-DeGette bill (H.R. 810), legislation that would provide federal funding for research using embryos created initially for reproductive purposes but left-over in fertility clinics. Quoting at some length:

The Jewish tradition places great value upon human life and its preservation. The Torah commands us to treat and cure the ill and to defeat disease wherever possible; to do this is to be the Creator’s partner in safeguarding the created. The traditional Jewish perspective thus emphasizes that the potential to save and heal human lives is an integral part of valuing human life. Moreover, the traditional Jewish perspective does not accord an embryo outside of the womb the full status of humanhood and its attendant protections. Thus, stem cell research may be consistent with and serve these moral and noble goals; however, such research must not be pursued indiscriminately.

H.R. 810 strikes this careful balance. By insisting that publicly funded stem cell research be conducted on cells derived from embryos donated to IVF clinics and were in excess of the clinical need of the individuals seeking IVF treatment, and by requiring the prior consultation with and consent of the donors, the Stem Cell Research Enhancement Act serves to value and venerate the sanctity of life and our responsibilities to our fellow man and woman.


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