FaithWorld

Guestview: Catholics, Jews and petri dishes

The following is a guest contribution. Reuters is not responsible for the content and the views expressed are the authors’ alone. Rabbi Elliot Dorff is rector of the American Jewish University in California and chairs the Conservative Movement’s Committee on Jewish Law and Standards.This article first appeared in the Forward, a Jewish weekly published in New York, and is reprinted with their permission.

By Rabbi Elliot Dorff

edwardsThis month, Robert Edwards, a professor emeritus at the University of Cambridge, won the Nobel Prize in Medicine for developing (along with Dr. Patrick Steptoe, who died in 1988), in vitro fertilization. The technique whereby eggs are removed from a woman, fertilized in a petri dish (hence the name “in vitro,” or “in a glass”), and then implanted into the womb, has enabled people to procreate who would otherwise not be able to have children. (Photo: Professor Robert Edwards, July 26, 2003)

Indeed, since Louise Brown, the first baby conceived through IVF, was born in 1978, some four million children have been conceived using this technique. Today between 1% and 2% of all babies born in the United States and other developed countries each year are conceived through IVF.

In vitro fertilization has had two ancillary benefits. Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD), a technique developed about 10 years ago, enables couples to use IVF to avoid serious genetic diseases by extracting and testing one cell from each of a group of IVF embryos and then implanting only the ones without the disease. This avoids requiring the woman to carry a baby who might have a lethal or debilitating genetic disease for several months before testing and then possibly aborting the fetus.

Embryonic stem cell research is another boon produced by IVF. Using frozen embryos left over by couples who have used IVF to have children, scientists have justified hope of producing cures for some of our worst diseases — cancer, heart attacks, strokes, Parkinson’s, spinal cord injuries — and may even ultimately produce tissues and full organs for transplant.

Polish bishops call IVF “younger sister of eugenics”

cloneBishops of Poland’s influential Roman Catholic Church have branded in vitro fertilization (IVF) “the younger sister of eugenics” in a letter aimed at swaying lawmakers ahead of a parliamentary debate.

Their intervention, two weeks after the Vatican condemned the awarding of the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine to IVF pioneer Robert Edwards, triggered an unusually sharp response from lawmakers who say the clergy should not meddle in politics. (Photo: A cloned human embryo, created at the Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne, England, 19 May 2005/handout)

“The in vitro method comes at great human cost. To give birth to one child … many humans suffer death at different stages of the medical process,” said the letter, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters on Tuesday.

Vatican keeps up attack on Nobel prize for IVF pioneer

embryoThe Vatican kept up its attack on the Nobel committee on Tuesday for giving the medicine prize to in-vitro fertilization pioneer Robert Edwards, saying he had led to a culture where embryos are seen as commodities.

For the second straight day, it gave the thumbs down to the choice of Edwards, whose success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led to “test tube babies” and later innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood. Several leading Italian newspapers criticized it for its attack on Edwards. (Photo: Cloned human embryo created at Centre for Life in Newcastle upon Tyne in handout photo published May 19, 2005)

A statement by the Vatican-based International Federation of Catholic Medical Associations (FIAMC), said the group was “dismayed” at the choice. “Although IVF has brought happiness to the many couples who have conceived through this process, it has done so at enormous cost,” the federation said in a statement issued on Vatican letter head.

IVF spawns host of ethical issues

embryosIn vitro fertilization (IVF), the pioneering technique that won Robert Edwards the 2010 Nobel Prize for medicine, opened up a wealth of scientific options and a Pandora’s box of ethical dilemmas.

Edwards’s success in fertilizing a human egg outside of the womb led not only to “test tube babies” but also to innovations such as embryonic stem cell research and surrogate motherhood. (Photo: Frozen human embryos at the Priory Hospital in Birmingham, England, July 31., 1996/Ian Hodgson)

Amid the applause for these medical breakthroughs, ethicists from some Christian churches oppose IVF and techniques related to it because they involve the destruction of human embryos.  The bewildering array of options due to the IVF revolution — from the morality of making “designer babies” to exploitation of poor women as surrogate mothers — has created much concern and many debates among secular ethicists as well.