What is a Jewish sperm donor

What Jews and Muslims say about artificial insemination

The bioethics committee deals, among other things, with questions of reproductive medicine. Since October 2011, observers from the Jewish and Islamic religious communities have also attended the meetings.

Vienna. Rabbi Yehuda ha-Nasi, one of the most famous Jewish scholars of antiquity, was seriously ill for a long time. His students sat around his sickbed and prayed to prolong his life. The housekeeper who worked for him knew that he no longer had a life worth living. So she took a clay pot and smashed it. The students stopped praying for a moment in horror and the scholar's soul was able to leave his body.

“This story from the Talmud teaches us that in principle everything has to be done to save life,” says Willy Weisz, “but also that one has to allow dying without active tutoring when life only means more pain . “Weisz deals with questions like these, because he was nominated by the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde as observer for the bioethics committee. Established in 2001 by the Federal Chancellery, the commission deals with questions of medicine and organic research with a view to the development of legislation. "The ethical questions that arise from the advancement of science through new methods, especially in reproductive medicine, need certain committees to discuss these questions," says chairwoman Christiane Druml.

25 members from the fields of medicine, molecular biology and genetic engineering, law, sociology, philosophy and theology sit in the commission; since autumn 2011, observers from the Jewish and Islamic sides have also been taking part in all regular meetings.

Theology and Ethical Issues

The observers are not allowed to vote, but they are allowed to comment and make recommendations. The most recent activity report of the Bioethics Commission dealt with, among other things, biobanks for scientific research, the terminology of medical decisions at the end of life and a reform of the law on reproduction.

Ethical decisions among the Jews are derived from the provisions of the Torah and the Talmud. In Islam, on the other hand, one appeals to the legal findings of the Islamic scholars of the recognized schools of law. “A consensus among Islamic scholars is used as the source of the legal provisions,” says the observer of the Islamic Faith Community, Abdulmedzid Sijamhodzic. "These topics are generally and superficially addressed in the Koran and Sunna (life and statements of Prophet Muhammad, note)."

Both Islam and Judaism have a fundamentally positive attitude towards artificial insemination: In-vitro fertilization is permitted in Islam as long as the sperm cell and egg cell come from the married couple. In Judaism this is seen even more liberally: “Judaism is absolutely for in vitro fertilization if it is necessary to enable the desire for children,” says Weisz. "If medicine can help, then it should do it." Egg donation is problematic, sperm donation that does not come from the spouse is problematic. "In individual cases," says Weisz, "they are also allowed."

However, Weisz puts it down: “You are not allowed to do everything you can.” For example, the selection of embryos to be implanted for non-medically indicated reasons is generally not allowed in Judaism.

However, there are strictly limited reasons for a preselection. “For example, if a family has at least four children of the same sex and wants one of the opposite sex,” says Weisz. There is no uniform legal opinion on this subject in Islam. “Scholars disagree on gender determination and gender influencing,” says Sijamhodzic. "Some, especially the modernists, consider this to be permitted and others to be forbidden, on the grounds that it would represent an interference in the area of ​​the divine sovereignty of creation." If he had to give his legal opinion in such a case, he would in any case first Consultation with the highest bodies of the Islamic Faith Community.

The Austrian Reproductive Medicine Act has been in force since 1992 and has hardly been changed to this day. "The law is very strict and we are discussing it because a lot has happened medically in the last 20 years," says Ethics Committee chairman Druml. "Because these questions affect everyone in Austria, it is also good to have the observers as a broader horizon."

Fertilization for Married Only?

In the near future, the Commission will, among other things, consider whether it is appropriate that in Austria only married couples and couples in similar communities are allowed to undergo artificial insemination. And also whether egg donation should continue to be prohibited. In any case, the observers from the two religious communities will be present in all of these debates.

At a glance

Bioethics Commission: Established in 2001 by the then Federal Chancellor Wolfgang Schüssel, the commission advises the Federal Chancellor on all social, scientific and legal questions of human medicine and biology from an ethical point of view. 15 to 25 members, mostly experts from science, are appointed for a two-year term. Since October 2011, Judaism and Islam have been represented by observers.