My name is Kathryn Blaze Carlson and I'm a reporter with the National Post,a newspaper in Toronto, Canada.
I'm working on a story about artificial insemination and halakhah law. I seethat you're speaking at the International Conference on Jewish MedicalEthics this summer, and therefore figured you'd be an excellent resource onthis subject.
I'm hoping we can either arrange some time to chat (it's four hours earlierhere), or that you might be able to answer the following questions via email(which may, in fact, be easier):
1. What is your position on artificial insemination by husband? Is it inaccordance with halakhah law? What about artificial insemination by donor?
2. Does the procedure need to be supervised? What are your thoughts on thework of the Puah Institute, which supervises the process to ensure thatTalmudic law is abided by?
3. What are the potential dangers of IVF or other forms of artificialinsemination in terms of obeying Talmudic law?
4. Is it OK for a woman to undergo the process during the time in which sheis considered unclean (due to her menstrual cycle)?
5. How important is it to procreate, according to Jewish Law?
6. Does a couple need to have been married/trying for children for a certainnumber of years before it is deemed acceptable to undergo artificialinsemination?
Thanks in advance for your time! I look forward to your response!
Cheers,Kathryn Blaze Carlson
Hello Ms. Carson,
Rabbi Mordechai Halperin, M.D., asked me to respond on his behalf to your inquiry about artificial insemination and halakhah. Many of the points are subject of debate; I will try to present the consensus view.
1. Artificial insemination by the husband's sperm is generally permitted where medically necessary for couples experiencing fertility difficulties or who have genetic issues. The primary halakhic concern involves the method of procuring the semen, in light of the prohibitions against masturbation and emitting semen for naught.
Artificial insemination by a donor is a far more complex issue. Anonymous donation by a Jewish donor is not allowed for a number of reasons. There are available options that need to be discussed with aש qualified Rav who deals with these issues. Never the less, a child who was conceived through donor sperm is considered legitimate by almost all authorities.
2. It is strongly recommended that the procedure be supervised, to minimize the possibility of human error and to ensure credibility. Puah Institute has done outstanding work during the past 20 years, in supervising IVF procedures, counseling couples and educating the public on issues of fertility.
3. There are a number of halakhic issues in AI and IVF. The primary concerns involve: masturbation and emitting of semen for naught, modesty issues, question of maternity and possible need for conversion (in egg-donors), lineage to father and priestly status, question of legitimacy (if donor sperm), and concern for marrying relative (when anonymous donor).
4. It is preferable to perform AI after immersion, if possible. If not possible, it is permissible for a woman to undergo AI during the time that she is considered impure due to her menstrual cycle.
5. Procreation is singled out by the Talmud as a "great" mitzvah, and is considered to be one of the primary purposes of the creation of the world. The basic halakhic mandate is one son and one daughter, and there are secondary mandates to have additional children.
6. If there is no known medical condition, it is recommended that a couple try to conceive through natural means for at least a year before seeking medical intervention, and two years before doing AI or IVF. If there is a known medical situation, it is acceptable to seek medical intervention sooner.
Additional information can be found in "In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF), Insemination and
Egg-Donation," by Rabbi Mordechai Halperin, M.D., and Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, by Avraham Steinberg, M.D., Feldheim Publishers 2003, vol. I pp. 58-73.
Rabbi Meir Orlian