Orthodox Rabbis Endorse Freezing Eggs

Before I turn to the recent comments I wanted to put up a short post about this news items, which fits nicely with yesterday’s post.  As you can easily see, yesterday’s post was about how new technologies have brought us the ability to freeze human eggs for later use.   This development will almost assuredly lead to egg banks that more clearly resembles sperm banks and, one would think, a market for eggs that more clearly resembles the market for sperm.

But the ability to freeze eggs opens other avenues besides those that lead to commercial markets.   As the article I linked to shows, Orthodox rabbis (at least some orthodox rabbis) are encouraging women to freeze their own eggs for later use.    And it makes sense to me that they would do so.

For (some or many?  I do not know) Orthodox Jews, a child is Jewish only if the egg from which it developed was from a Jewish woman.   Further, Orthodox women are expected to marry and to have children–often many children.   Of course the children as supposed to be Jewish and ideally, genetically related to her.     So what is a woman who is aging but not yet married to do?  Her potential as a spouse diminishes with each passing year as her fertility diminishes.

Having her eggs frozen solves the woman’s problem.   Once frozen the eggs will keep–we may not know for how long but at least for a while.   It’s almost like an insurance policy–if she marries and is unable to conceive because of age, she has younger frozen eggs to use.   If she can conceive in the ordinary fashion, the frozen eggs need never be used.

There’s still a commercial market of sorts here–someone charges money for the retrieval of the eggs and for their storage, I’m sure.    But it’s a much less problematic one.   This is clearly fee for service.

It’s also noteworthy for a point which might be obvious but which I will make anyway.   Religious traditions take quite different stances vis-a-vis ART questions.   I’ve noted in the past that the Catholic church opposes using IVF, even when a husband and wife use their own genetic materials to create a child.   I suspect Catholic teaching would also condemn freezing eggs as described above, as some will never be used and will eventually be destroyed.     Certainly the destruction of extra embryos is unacceptable in Catholic thought.

By contrast, Orthodox Jews (or at least some Orthodox Jews–Judaism is much less hierarchical than Catholicism and different rabbis, even different Orthodox rabbis offer different interpretations of Jewish law) embrace ART, promote freezing eggs and/or embryos, and are unconcerned by the possibility that excess eggs and/or embryos will be destroyed.

I am hardly in a position to say that one view is better than the other.  This is not my point at all.  Rather, I want to note that despite some common underlying principles, two widelyl recognized religions offer quite different teachings on the acceptability of ART.   With that in the background, how surprising is it that there’s such wide disagreement within our society?

I’ll stop here.   But this seems a fitting post to end with wishes for a sweet new year, for those of you who celebrate the new year tomorrow evening.  L’Shanah tova.



4 responses to “Orthodox Rabbis Endorse Freezing Eggs

  1. An egg bank. Its not an egg storage facility but an egg bank. How possible is it that your gametes will be given to someone other than you? And then when you are ready to make a withdrawl yourself, you are given the eggs of a close physical match? What is to stop them really? There are no dna tests at retrieval or at withdrawl and fertilization or at implantation of the embryo and no manditory testing of mothers and children at birth to ensure that the right woman is named mother. In fact whoever gives birth will be named mother and so virtually no way to detect, what technically is not even a crime.
    What do you think of the idea that these banks might work this way Julie. Fertile women deposit their eggs for use by infertile women today and when you are an infertile woman tomorrow you go make a withdrawl of eggs from the fertile women of tomorrow. Seems simple enough, all the women pay to have their eggs harvested and pay to have them stored they will pay to have them withdrawn and fertilized and implanted. It seems they can get women themselves to fund the whole freaking thing. Endless money to be made. It does not violate your thinking since they all get babies.

    • I’m not sure I understand the difference you see between an egg bank and an egg storage facility. I think an egg bank is an egg storage facility.

      As for the possiblitiy of error, that depends a great deal on the systems and safeguards in place. i’ve no idea about the egg banks, but in sperm banks, it does vary. Some are very good and keep track properly. No doubt others do not. SHould we insist on the best possible practice? Of course.

      I’m not sure I see what your problem is, beyond that. This is a person storing her eggs for her own use. is she entitled to do so? I don’t see why not. And I think it would be a perfectly legitimate business to assist her by running the facility that keeps the eggs safely stored until she wants them.

      Is there a possibility that someone could be ripped off or cheated, etc? I suppose there always is, right? But there is always a risk that someone is ttotally unethical and dishonest–no matter what sort of business you talk about. We have to guard against that. But I’m not sure there’s a hugely higher risk here than in other enterprises.

  2. as i understand from a friend who underwent iVF, at the time of the retrieval/ obtaining fresh sperm which is done at the same time, orthodox rabbis require that their be a witness who is an orthodox jew, and who is not a hospital employee, to observe that the right eggs is fertilized with the right sperm. once the embryos or gametes are frozen however, there really isn’t any safeguards to be certain that no one sneaked in and switched the labels.

    • I like the idea of rabbinic supervision. But of course, nothing is foolproof if someone is determined to do mischief. I think reputable banks (if we’re going to call them that) make it very hard to do so, but I suppose you cannot make it impossible. Still, if you live your life worrying about the worst that people might do, would you ever do anything? Would you agree to surgery on your foot when you realize that someone could maliciously operate on the wrong foot? I would (assuming i needed the surgery, of course.) I just think the risk of really determined bad actors isn’t that big.

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