Some news reports over the weekend suggest that Pope Benedict has come out against in-vitro fertilization, when in truth that has been a longstanding policy of the church. What may be new was his emphatic rejection, in which he was quoted as saying it is “arrogant.”
That term does not appear in the official Catholic News Service report, and it seems that what the Pope may essentially have been saying was that clinics who turn to IVF as a first resort, rather than trying to address and treat infertility to allow normal conception, for the sake of profit are arrogant, which is not an unreasonable point. But he also insists that only unassisted conception is valid.
Unfortunately, some will take this is an insult that drives them away from the church, says Jon O’Brien of Catholics for Choice.
"Catholics around the world will be saddened at the label ‘arrogant’ being applied to couples seeking help to have children and the doctors who try to help them,” he writes. “The Pope’s remarks only serve to drive another wedge between people of faith and the church hierarchy.”
From a financial point of view as well as an emotional one, avoiding IVF when other options exist is obviously preferable. But in many cases those other options just aren’t possible.
Fortunately, Jewish law as interpreted by many decisors is clear that in vitro fertilization is acceptable (although use of donor eggs or sperm is problematic, and many rabbis reject the use of donor sperm) and widely in use by Orthodox and other observant Jews. There are even rabbinical supervisors who oversee the process and organizations devoted to helping couples make informed decisions about it.
One of them is Puah, an Israel based organization that deals with “Family, Fertility, Medicine and Halacha.”
"Like the Catholic Church, the Jewish tradition – including halakha – is at its core pro-life," says fertility expert Dr. Richard Grazi, who is affiliated with Maimonides Medical Center and works closely with Puah. "But that leads Jews to very different conclusions regarding the treatment of infertility."
Jews, he notes, do not look at infertility as a spiritual affliction, or rely solely on prayer for resolution. "Fertility therapies are more properly viewed, as are all other medical interventions, under the rubric of rapo yerapeh¸ the biblical license for physicians to heal," said Grazi.
"The vast array of reproductive technologies that are now available to physicians who specialize in the treatment of infertility are viewed, as are all medical treatments, as a manifestation of God’s will. Under the guidelines of halakha, assisted reproductive techniques, including in vitro fertilization, can be and is used to ease the suffering of infertile couples and to help the Jewish community at large to be fruitful and multiply."