Contemporary American Reform Responsa
18. Test Tube Baby
an embryo was successfully formed from an egg fertilized by her husband’s sperm. It was then implanted in the wife’s womb and developed into a full-term baby. Is this form of insemination permissible for Jewish parents who otherwise could not have children? Is it permissible to fertilize several such eggs, store the embryos and implant them in others? (S. M. L., Pittsburgh, PA)
ANSWER: It is clear that these techniques are now available. Although some
refinements still need to be made before they can be widely practiced, it is possible to fertilize an egg under laboratory conditions and implant it in the mother’s womb. It is also possible to freeze the embryos of livestock and keep them over long periods of time. On subsequent implantation, they develop into full-fledged, normal animals. This has been done regularly with livestock and could, presumably, be done with human beings. Various aspects of these questions will be discussed separately.
Jewish authorities have favored the principle that every
individual at least reproduce himself, and so a couple should have a minimum of two children (Yeb. 62b; Yad Hil. Ishut 15.16; Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 1.8). This was Hillel’s interpretation of peru urvu. Parents have been encouraged to have at least two children. This remains high on the Jewish agenda despite the general mood of birth control, as we remain a very small endangered minority.
In keeping with this principle, it has always been
considered a sin to emit sperm for an act other than procreation (San. 108b; Nidah 13a; R. H. 12a; Yad Hil. Issurei Biah 21). This has led Orthodox authorities to prohibit various methods of birth control. Here, however, we are not dealing with the misuse of the sperm, but simply the fertilization outside of the normal channels. This matter has been discussed and approved by Mosheh Feinstein (Igrot Mosheh Even Haezer #10) if the sperm utilized was that of the husband, while he and most others would prohibit using the sperm of a donor. Solomon B. Freehof would permit it in either case, while Alexander Guttmann would exercise great caution with donor sperm (W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, #157, 158) As we are dealing with the husband’s sperm, all the cautions cited are irrelevant. There would be nothing which would prohibit the actual fertilization of the egg taking place in a test tube and its implantation in the wife’s womb. It would enable some childless Jewish couples to have children and should be encouraged when available.
The second part of the question deals with
the freezing of embryos (fertilized eggs) and keeping them indefinitely. This, of course, raises an entirely different set of problems. If it is the intent to preserve the embryos for this couple only, and insert them into the wife at a later time, perhaps if the first pregnancy fails or to create subsequent children, no objection could be raised. However, adequate safeguards must be assured with, perhaps, a time limit for the preservation. Such frozen embryos should not be used for genetic experimentation or engineering. Both of these areas need much careful further study.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.