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Postmortem Egg-Freezing And Halacha

Postmortem Egg-Freezing And Halacha

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn.

Q – A few weeks ago an Israeli court is believed to have made history by being the first to allow parents to extract and freeze the ovarian eggs of their recently deceased daughter. I know that’s been done with a man’s sperm, but this seems to cross an ethical red line, doesn’t it?
A- As reported recently in Haaretz, Huffington Post and elsewhere, a 17 year old Israeli woman named Chen Aida Ayash was hit by a car while crossing a street in Kfar Sava in late July. When she died several days later, her family decided to donate her organs. The family then requested that eggs be harvested from her ovaries and frozen. This was allowed, setting a historic legal precedent. Once again science is way out ahead of us on the ethical frontier, as we have not even begun to grasp the implications of freezing unfertilized eggs, especially when done without the permission of the mother. The judge refused to allow the family to have the eggs fertilized (it is evidently far less complicated to freeze and preserve embryos than unfertilized eggs).
Given Chen’s age, wouldn’t forcibly fertilizing her eggs be a form of post mortem statutory rape? Not only don’t we know whether Chen would have wanted a child, bioethicists claim that we also would need to know whether she would have wanted one to be born after her death.
One can understand why Chen’s parents would want to keep her alive in every manner imaginable, and the donation of her organs is an admirable way to do that. But to produce a child in this manner simply in order to comfort a grieving parent, or to enable that parent to fulfill the dream of becoming a grandparent, seems selfish. Let’s say the embryo is implanted in a neighbor, who then delivers the child naturally and brings her up. Who would be the child’s mother? What would the child be told about the circumstances of her conception?
Israeli courts, at the request of bereaved widows, have allowed sperm to be harvested from soldiers who have died in battle, but that right has never been extended to grandparents, who have, in all respects, very little legally to say about the upbringing of grandchildren. The right to procreate belongs to parents alone.
Jewish grandparents tend to be invested in the destinies of their grandchildren. Why? Because their own immortality is at stake. For Jews, the question of immortality depends less on the survival of an individual soul than in the perpetuation of the chain of peoplehood, from generation to generation. What the Ayash family did is perfectly understandable in this context. Understandable, but wrong. There are far more appropriate ways to preserve Chen’s memory and enable some good to come out of such a horrible tragedy.
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