Israel creates law to ‘solve’ infertility crisis

By Nathan Jeffay, March 4, 2010
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The Israeli government has resolved to end a decade-long fertility crisis which has seen ova donations almost disappear, leaving infertile women reliant on imported eggs.

Egg donors have always been in short supply in Israel, as a 30-year-old law states that only women who are already having eggs harvested as part of their own fertility treatment can donate.

But while women who were undergoing fertility treatment did donate, it emerged in 2000 that some doctors had removed patients' eggs for transplant without permission, leading to an enormous drop in donations.

Each year, hundreds of Israeli women use foreign ova, each paying £4-5000. Now, the Ministry of Health wants to introduce a new, closely monitored procedure for donation that will restore public confidence; shelve the law limiting donors to women who are already having eggs harvested; and start remunerating donors with around £1,000.

The government brought the bill, which is expected to become law within a month, to the Knesset this week.

"As a country where families are one of the most important things, we hope that this law will help women who want children," said Mira Huebner, legal advisor for the Ministry of Health.

Back in 2002 a Canadian study showed that Israel administered more fertility treatment cycles each year, per million residents, than any other Western country -1,657 against an international average of 289. Israel's figure has more than doubled since then.

Ms Huebner said that a database will let children born from donations know whether a prospective partner is genetically related. She also defended the payments, arguing that they will ensure that women are not out-of-pocket and are too small to entice women to donate for the money.

But Donor Sibling Registry, an international not-for-profit, is lobbying MKs to stop the bill. Its Israel representative, Sarah Raz, said: "For many women - in university students or the army - it's a lot of money and this will make them want to take part."

The bill was originally drafted in 2000. Its revival now may have been spurred by a development in rabbinic circles. Mordechai Halperin, head of the Ministry of Health committee which drafted the original bill, has said that it needs to be passed urgently to "prevent serious halachic problems".

Rabbinic opinion seems to have shifted away from the previously common view that a child born to a Jewish birth mother is Jewish, towards the opinion that children born from eggs donated by non-Jewish women are non-Jewish.

The Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman, a Gur Chasid, is known to be deeply concerned by the prospect of Jewish women giving birth to non-Jewish babies, and enthusiastic about the bill's provision for women receiving eggs to find out the religion of the donor.

Last updated: 4:58pm, March 4 2010