Judaism & Fertility Technology

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In vitro fertilization (IVF), in which eggs extracted from a woman are fertilized outside of her body and then implanted in her uterus, raises several related issues. Usually, several eggs are taken for fertilization, and the "best" embryos are chosen for implantation. Jewish authorities have concerns about what to do with the unused zygotes (fertilized eggs). If they are discarded, is it akin to "wasting seed" or, more seriously, abortion? In the end, most Jewish authorities agree that an egg fertilized outside of a womb does not have any human status and can be discarded.

In addition, because the success rate of IVF is still relatively low, doctors often implant several zygotes to increase the chances of one of them attaching to the uterine wall and developing. If all or even many of them attach, however, then the woman will be carrying four or five embryos, potentially dangerous for both her and the developing fetuses

Selective abortion of some of the embryos is often recommended in such cases. While Judaism permits abortion when a woman's life is in danger and some authorities permit abortion in other serious cases, actively pursuing a situation in which abortion might well be necessary is potentially problematic from the standpoint of Jewish tradition. Rabbi Elliot Dorff has suggested limiting implantation to two or three zygotes, thus avoiding even the potential need for selective abortion. 

Surrogate motherhood raises a host of halakhic (Jewish legal) and moral problems. In general, a surrogate is paid to incubate and give birth to a baby for another couple, and many rabbis are disturbed by this "commodification" of a woman's body and the reproductive process. Others are concerned about the effect that it might have on the marriage of the couple trying to conceive. For these and other reasons, many rabbis--across denominational lines--reject surrogacy.

Others, however, believe that the legal and moral objections can be allayed and approve of surrogacy when it is the only possible way a couple can have children. However, there are lingering questions for these authorities as well, such as which woman is considered the child's mother. 

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