You are here
Religion and Fertility: Thoughts at Passover and Easter
a blog by Kim Griffiths, March 30, 2013
Easter and Passover are a time for us to reflect on our faith and focus on themes of life and new beginnings. If you are in the midst of a fertility treatment cycle during these holidays, you may have several faith-based questions regarding fertility and fertility treatment.
Many couples come to a point in their struggle with infertility where they question what they could have done to deserve the inability to have a child. There is nothing they have done to deserve infertility; it is not a punishment (though it definitely feels that way at times). We could say that God has brought us to this struggle because we are strong enough to overcome it and will discover a new beginning, much like the theme of Easter and Passover.
For some, religion plays a strong role in our decisions about fertility treatment- what we are willing to pursue and what we feel ethically or morally opposed to. You might question which fertility treatments are acceptable according to the tenets of your religion.
In Catholicism, fertility treatments like fertility drugs, intrauterine insemination (with husband’s sperm), timed intercourse, and reproductive surgery are approved. While in vitro fertilization (IVF), intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) and Zygote Intrafallopian Transfer (ZIFT) are shunned by the Catholic Church, Gamete Intrafallopian Transfer (GIFT) is permitted. GIFT involves placing the egg and sperm of a couple inside the fallopian tube where the sperm is expected to fertilize the egg without medical intervention. The primary concern of the church is that life should only be created at the hand of God (egg and sperm must meet on their own). Creating embryos or destroying embryos is seen as taking life into our own hands and is therefore not approved under Catholic doctrine. An embryo is considered a life from the moment of conception per Catholic beliefs. Egg donation, sperm donation, and surrogacy are also not approved.
In Judaism, most fertility treatments are permitted, and in fact, three prominent female figures in the Old Testament suffered with infertility. One woman, Rachel, even used the help of fertility herbs to conceive.
Under Jewish law, IVF may be permitted as long as the sperm and eggs are properly traced to a halachically married couple. A trained, Jewish, arbitrator must be present at the fertilization process to ensure that the sperm and eggs of only the couple are being used. It is believed that the couple and the medical staff are not objective sources to be considered fair witness. If donor sperm or donor eggs are used, there are guidelines as to the life and religious upbringing of the child born of that pregnancy.
Prior to 40 days of existence, an embryo is not considered a life according to the Jewish faith. If the embryo may not be transferred or frozen, there is no violation of Jewish law to discard it within the first 40 days. The embryo could also be used for research purposes.
It can be difficult to navigate the course of fertility treatment while still respecting your faith, but there are ways to build your family while abiding by religious doctrine. You should consult a priest or rabbi for clarification on the views of fertility treatment according to your faith.