in Israel they choose the sperm for you

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about how IVF is available to all Israeli citizens and Jews who live in the Occupied Territories. As an IFer (infertile person) who’s Jewish and has some limited experience traveling in Israel and Palestine, I am particularly interested in this topic. I’m now about a quarter of the way through Reproducing Jews: A Cultural Account of Assisted Conception in Israel by Susan Martha Kahn.

I’ll write a more complete review when I finish, but here are some things that struck me:

  • In Israel the state chooses your sperm for you. Well, almost: the state owns the donor sperm, and patients are not given a wide selection. The most disturbing thing, though, is the women’s account of being urged to choose sperm from donors who “looked like them,” even when they requested otherwise. One women said, “I wanted to go for Iraqi sperm or something like that, but the nurse persuaded me not to. She said she knew the donor of me, he has blue eyes like me…”  I’d call that positive eugenics.
  • The description of the atmosphere of the public clinics is totally unlike my experience in New York. The author describes how “intimate and intense relationships often developed between unmarried women patients and the staff… These relationships evolved in the context of ongoing and close contact between women and clinic staff as inseminations and various associated diagnostic procedures…were repeated month after month.” So does that mean that the clinic’s billing coordinators actually return the patients’ calls?  That would be a bigger miracle than a virgin birth.
  • There’s no discussion of Palestinians.  The author acknowledges the limits of her study at the outset, but since demography is such a big focus in Israel it’s hard to ignore. Just think of the way the 2010 Census inspired anxious musings about the Mexican birthrate here in the US. It’s sort of like that in Israel, I think, but worse.  The Palestine Solidarity Review has a review of this book that takes the author to task for omitting the question of Palestine.  Check out the author’s response to the review and the reviewer’s response to the author’s response. It’s a great exchange.

I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on this.

Happy International Comment Leaving Week to my fellow IF bloggers.


16 Responses to “in Israel they choose the sperm for you”

  1. Not being able to choose the donor? I mean, we went anonymous, but we still had a say in the physical characteristics from the lists and whatnot. But then again, our culture is so drastically different, so perhaps to many of them it isn’t that strange? It is fascinating though!

    ICLW #77

  2. Great posts, Chloe!

    I think there is lots of genetic variety within Jewish Israel, possible donors from Ethiopia, Europe, the Middle East…it’s strange that women would not have a wide selection. I wonder if the state has a very wide donor base but just selects a few options for each woman, based on her ethnicity or cultural background, or if they just limit the number of donors in general based on certain criteria. Would be interesting to find out what those criteria are.

  3. What about the problem of mixing genes so that genetic difficulties are sidestepped? Does the author include this question?

  4. I haven’t done much reading at all about assisted reproductive therapies in other countries… I find it fascinating that the government limits the choice of sperm donors to physical similarities. The physical aspect of who a person is… well, it’s just the outer shell. Shouldn’t there be more taken into consideration?

    Great post!
    Happy ICLW!

  5. Thanks for the comments, all. I should clarify that, at least as far as I understand, they don’t force a particular donor on you. But the choices are much narrower than in the US, and the nurses and doctors seem to actively encourage women to “choose” donors that are phenotypically similar to them. At least that’s how I understand it from this book.

    So far there’s no mention of genetic testing for Tay Sachs and the other “Jewish diseases” but I’m sure they do that before accepting sperm and before doing assisted reproduction.

    Even here in the US, if you identify yourself as a European Jew, you get what’s called the “Ashkenazi panel” which tests you for those diseases, though I think it’s something of a misnomer because people who are not Ashkenazi have those diseases too.

  6. I also decided against a clinic in Spain becuase they do not allow the patient to chose the egg donor. They chose who they think resembles you. I don’t like the thought of that at all and am now looking into Panama or India.

  7. What an interesting blog you have, you have discussed a lot of issues here that I wasn’t even aware of. Thanks for opening up my eyes. Also thanks for stopping by my blog and happy ICLW.

  8. Wow! This is really interesting!! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I appreciated your comment! I added your link to my blogroll! Happy ICLW!

  9. This seems really interesting, especially the choosing of the donor sperm! When I get some extra time I think I might need to pick up this book and have a read!

  10. Happy ICLW!

    I love your blog, what great topics you write about. I’ll definitely be adding it to my frequently visited sites.

    I haven’t really given much thought to how IVF in other countries is structured. Its certainly very interesting to think about how it varies from the US and what that might reveal about the differences in our cultures. Clearly many, including myself, were shocked to hear that clinics would encourage women to select donors sharing their physical characteristics. I can’t see that ever being acceptable here in the US. On the other hand, in the US, many of us will put up with very cold, clinical relationships with our RE professionals.

  11. I really appreciate your efforts to unearth the truth about the assisted pregnancy in Israel! Personally, I am quite freaked out by it.

    On another topic, I think you should start a campaign in NYS to get more funding for the program. you would certainly have the LGBT community behind you.

    keep writing! this is a great blog, you run seamlessly between politics, and fertility issues. brilliant 😉

  12. Thanks for visiting my blog. Wow, this is pretty fascinating. I love learning more about ART in other countries and the implications. And don’t even get me started on how completely messed up and nonsensical the U.S. healthcare system is.

  13. Huh. I knew nothing about this. Is the idea that they want to do whatever they can to keep the Jewish population alive and burgeoning? Fascinating. Thanks for sharing! And Happy ICLW to you.

    – lp (#133)

  14. Wow–that is interesting! Happy ICLW!


  15. Wow, you have written some truly fascinating posts! Thanks for visiting my blog! You asked a question regarding public funding in NZ in regards to IVF – I thought I would answer you on your blog. Basically the government will pay for two IVF cycles per couple as long as you meet certain criteria and there are waiting lists up to two and a half years depending on where you live. I met the criteria straight away as I have a blocked tube and PCOS plus a uterine polyp and only had a 7 month wait due to where I live. However, to give you an idea, on the flipside ‘unexplained’ infertility doesn’t meet the points threshold for funded treatment until you have been TTC for 5 years so the system isn’t very fair. We just got lucky.

  16. Thank-you for the comment on my blog. Yes, over here in Europe they seem to think that slow and steady wins the race. We shall see.

    I have been reading through your previous posts and I have really enjoyed reading your view on some of these fertility-related issues. I look forward to hearing more from you, and good luck with your pending IUI.

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