Monday, February 8, 2010

Designer Babies


I took the article below from last week's "Torah Tidbits" from the "Israel Center - Orthodox Union" in Jerusalem. The article itself was written by the PUAH Institute and as soon as I started reading, I was shocked. To me, the whole story sounded like a real science fiction and I would have never thought that something like this exists.

However, I am planning some further explanations on the issue. Especially the Jewish halachical as well as the ethical point of view !

But first the PUAH article:

In 2004, American author Jodi Picault's novel "My Sister's Keeper" became a bestseller. The main character of the novel was born to her parents in their attempt to provide umbilical cord blood for the treatment of an older sister who was suffering from leukemia. Incredibly, the story is based on true scientific realities; Pre - implantation Genetic Diagnosis (or "PGD"), the technology for the creation of such a child exists and is in regular use today.

My remark: Only in certain countries where it is seen as legal: In Germany, for instance, the law forbids such implantations.

For example, we recently participated in Shaarei Tzedek Hospital's (Jerusalem) celebration of the birth of their 100th child conceived through PGD in their PGD lab.

In the annual Puah Conference on Medicine and Halacha held in Jerusalem last month, Rav Yaakov Ariel, the Chief Rabbi of Ramat Gan discussed the Halacha of the issue of deliberately engineering a child to be used as a source of donor material to save another person's life.

Rav Ariel raised a number of questions, both from the perspective of the mother / parents as well as that of the unborn child.

In normative situations, couples conceive and bear children for the purpose of having a family under the framework of the mitzva of P'RU URVU (procreation). As such, each pregnancy, be it natural or physician assisted, is undergone with the goal of having a child as a member of the family. The establishment of families in this framework is the reason that women are permitted to put themselves in the danger of childbirth, which does have medical risks.

In this case, the pregnancy and childbirth is being undergone not for the purpose of procreation, but rather for the purpose of saving the life of the other sibling. The treatment requires injections to stimulate egg production, the extraction of eggs and other invasive actions that entail some measure of risk. Is the mother halachically permitted to endanger herself with this pregnancy for a purpose other than procreation ?

Furthermore, as regards the unborn child, although the initial treatments may consist of utilizing umbilical cord blood, there is no guarantee that they will be limited to such. In the fictional case of the book, the initial treatments failed and the sibling was thrust into serving as a repository of organs and materials for the treatment of her sister's illness. Are we permitted to put a child under the age of adulthood (bar / bat mitzva) in danger in order to save someone else's life ?

As regards the parents, Rav Ariel noted that although mitzvot are generally fulfilled only when there is a clear intention to fulfill the mitzva, this may not apply in this situation. When discussing the mitzva of procreation, many opinions, such as the Minchat Chinuch, maintain that conceiving, bearing and giving birth to the child are not the requirements of the mitzva. They maintain that the mitzva is not in the action of creation, but rather in the result, the existence of the child.

As such, the motivation of the parents for creating the child are irrelevant halachically. Although they are acting primarily to save their sick child, the future existence of the sibling would fulfill the mitzva of procreation. Accordingly, the same dispensation that allows any woman to become pregnant and deliver a child (with or without fertility treatments) applies in this case and the pregnancy is permitted halachically.

Next week, we will discuss the ethical and halachic ramifications of forcing a newborn infant or minor child to serve as a donor in medical treatments used to save another person's life.

So far the PUAH INSTITUTE article from last week and the subject is going to be continued.
I sent an e - mail request to Puah in order to understand and clarify the whole matter because I have never heard about such practices. There are different opinions on when a soul is entering a human body. The question is if saving another person's life may destroy the soul of a newborn.



Interview with Rabbi Gideon Weitzman from the Puah Institute

Wikipedia on Pre - implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD)

PUAH kindly provided the following details:

Technically, PGD is done on a fertilized egg. It isn’t even called an embryo
yet. They extract cells from the egg and the material is tested for genetic
issues to identify what is in the genes. We can tell if it is a boy or a

PGD is done in conjunction with IVF. That is, the eggs and sperm are mixed
outside the body. Any fertilized egg that has a disease (such as tay sachs)
is discarded.

Halachically, until the 40th day the gemara says that a fertilized egg or an
embryo is considered to be the equivalent of water. So there is no problem
with discarding the undesired eggs AND, if a woman is pregnant and has no
interest in having further children, in disposing of frozen eggs.

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