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A welcome step forward: on the recommendations regarding fertility and birth in Israel

6 June 2012
By Dr Ruth Shidlo
Working in independent practice, Tel Aviv, and founder of Israeli Donor Families
Appeared in BioNews 659
Two weeks ago, the Israeli Ministry of Health (MOH) published recommendations regarding fertility and birth and its legislation (1).

I applaud this attempt to review and improve upon existing laws and MOH regulations (some of which are not consistent with international commitments) and to codify them. In particular, I welcome the attention brought to much-neglected issues, including the right of people conceived as a result of donated gametes to information regarding their donor. Other areas examined include surrogacy by gay men and posthumous reproduction (reported in BioNews 659).

At the same time, I wish the convention of the Public Committee had received greater publicity, and that they had reached out to those most affected by this: the donor conceived; their families; and donors. Not everyone trawled through the MOH website during the short timeframe provided for submissions to the Public Committee, certainly not the majority of those most affected.

I chanced upon the MOH website notice a few days beyond the deadline, and immediately submitted an application, having previously submitted a lengthy position paper (2) which, however, I suspect was never read by the folks at MOH, or if so, shelved. It certainly does not appear in the bibliography of the MOH report, nor do any of the 77 references cited (with the exception of actual laws referred to within the report).

Rather, the circumscribed MOH reference section deals predominantly with issues of surrogacy, including articles by some of the very people who have, as it happens, also researched donor families.

That said, I would like to congratulate the MOH Public Committee for recommending a 'dual track' of sperm donation. This makes it possible for Israeli men to become willing known donors, for mothers to choose such a donor for their children, and for donor conceived people to trace their ancestry should they so desire.

If accepted by the Knesset's Committee for Labor, Welfare and Health, this will be an important milestone in the cessation of discrimination in Israel against the donor conceived. Hopefully additional steps will follow, now that twenty years later, we are back to the original 'interim' recommendations of the Aloni Committee, which were subsequently withdrawn (3, 4). One such step concerns the right of people conceived as a result of egg donation to information about their donor.

Moreover, it is my deep conviction this dual track should be augmented by the setting up of a mechanism whereby anonymous donors can voluntarily provide information about themselves to their curious offspring, such as exists in the UK for donations that took place before the abolishment of anonymity (2, 5).

Meanwhile, Israeli donors and recipients should be informed of recent research findings of offspring needs, and encouraged to register voluntarily with the US-based, worldwide Donor Sibling Registry (DSR), which offers a welcome page in Hebrew (6). The modest fee required for those registering with the search engine is a small price to pay for the donor's chance to bring some peace of mind to his or her offspring, and to alleviate some of their own curiosity.

This leads to the need for unique but non-identifying donor codes in Israel, such as exist in the US (2, 5). When both parties are armed with a code, posting on the voluntary register becomes that much easier. To date, the DSR has led to over 9,000 matches. So many thousands of people are now able to contact their donor families and assuage the omnipresent existential questions they lived with regarding their identity and biological roots.

The DSR provides a medical page where both donor and donor family can share important medical information. Research has shown how meaningful this can be to all concerned: offspring, parents, and yes, donors (5).

Posting on the DSR makes it possible for basic attachment and interpersonal needs to be met. This deep longing for a connection with one's donor family, when mutually sought, can also facilitate the circumvention of accidental incest (and associated genetic mishaps), especially in a country the size of a postage stamp.

People conceived as a result of assisted reproduction, whose right to information regarding their biological parent/donor was bartered away by others in the interest of anonymised procreation (see 7-9 in this regard) need not suffer a second blow. In my estimation, the current practice of deliberately avoiding issuing such donor codes (once briefly provided by some sperm banks) so as to prevent contact among half-siblings is unnecessarily cruel and deeply unethical. Donor conceived people have every right to search for each other.

To the best of my knowledge, the Public Committee discussed none of this, but it is perhaps not too late to take this into account.

Lastly, further consideration and elaboration of the emotional welfare of children born as a result of surrogacy agreements or posthumous reproduction and of their basic rights, would be most welcome (for example, see 10-11).
01) The recommendations of the Public Committee for the Examination of Legislation of the Topic of Fertility and Birth in Israel
Ministry of Health, State of Israel |  21 May 2012
02) Shidlo R. Joseph and his brothers revisited: The rights of children conceived with donor insemination and sperm bank policy in Israel
Unpublished, paper submitted to the National Council for the Child and the Ministry of Health, Legal Department, Israel |  28 October 2010
03) Halperin M. Safeguarding information about biological parenthood
Assia 17 (1-2), 83-111 [Hebrew] |  1999
04) Mei-Ami N. Sperm donation in Israel
Knesset Research and Information Center (presented to the Committee on the Rights of the Child) |  4 December 2021
05) Shidlo R. In search of donor relations and identity: The missing voices of Israel’s children
In press |  2012
06) The Donor Sibling Registry
The Donor Sibling Registry |  4 December 2021
07) Sylvester T.K. The Case Against Sperm Donation Anonymity
Unpublished, Yale School of Law doctoral dissertation |  2006
08) Dennison M. Revealing your sources: the case for non-anonymous gamete donation
Journal of Law and Health |  1 March 2007
09) Motluk A. Anonymous sperm donor traced on internet
New Scientist |  5 November 2005
10) Landau R. Planned Orphanhood
Social Science and Medicine |  1 July 1999
11) Landau R. Israel: Every person has a right to have children
In Blyth E and Landau R. (Eds.) Third Party Conception Across Cultures: Social, Legal and Ethical Perspectives |  2004
17 June 2013 - by Hila Rimon-Greenspan and Vardit Ravitsky 
The permissive approach of the Israeli courts to allow posthumous conception is ethically justified and even commendable. By choosing 'a sperm with a past', a woman guarantees her prospective child a known genetic origin, as well as an opportunity to benefit from the love and the support of grandparents and an extended family...
4 March 2013 - by Dr Ruth Shidlo 
Once again, the voices of people and families conceived as a result of gamete donation in Israel are going unheeded...
10 September 2012 - by Dr Mary Yarwood 
The recent news reports that Ammar Zibden, a Palestinian imprisoned in Israel, has managed to smuggle his sperm out of prison and become a father highlight a number of problematic issues...
15 May 2012 - by Dr Vardit Ravitsky and Professor David Heyd 
Sex reassignment is an intricate and sensitive physiological, psychological, and social process that usually entails the loss of reproductive capacity. Reproductive technology can prevent this loss, but should it be used for that purpose? A recent case in Israel raises this question...
12 March 2012 - by Ruth Retassie 
A Tel Aviv family court judge has set a precedent by recognising a woman whose twins were born via a surrogate as the legal parent...
12 December 2011 - by Dr Ruth Shidlo 
Living in Israel, where gamete donor anonymity still rules supreme, I confess I envy the UK's clear focus on the welfare of the donor conceived child and the evolution of the legal rights of offspring...
31 October 2011 - by Dr Lux Fatimathas 
Increasing numbers of Israeli children with birth defects are suing medical professionals for failing to detect abnormalities and allowing them to be born, says the New Scientist. The magazine reports that such is the Israeli Government's concern over the rise in 'wrongful life' lawsuits it has launched an investigation into the validity of the claims....
19 September 2011 - by Ayesha Ahmad 
A recent court case in Israel has generated much controversy after a judge allowed the family of deceased 17-year-old Chen Aida Ayish to extract and freeze her eggs posthumously. At the time, the family also requested permission to fertilise the eggs but it is now understood to have retracted its request – reportedly in the face of public pressure...
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