Ethical Eggs | The Stirrer

Ethical Eggs is the second piece I’ve had published on The Stirrer.


Ethical Eggs

Recently it came to my attention, by way of a Sydney-based Jewish gay mailing list, that an observant Orthodox Jewish couple (married and nominally heterosexual) were unable to conceive conventionally due to a medical condition.  However they were advised that conception could be achieved with the assistance of a donated egg.

To accommodate their strict religious requirements the egg donor ideally must be Jewish and must be, and remain, unmarried.  The writer of the post felt that if the egg donor were to be a lesbian, this would rule out the likelihood that she would ever marry (a man), thereby meeting the aforementioned prerequisite that the donor be now, and remain, unmarried.

By the time I had digested the gist of this somewhat unusual request I was starting to feel a little uneasy.  Not that someone should donate an egg.  In itself that was fine.  What bothered me initially is that it was considered acceptable to use a lesbian woman as an egg donor simply because she would effectively be guaranteed never to get married (under Jewish law).

In 2012 in Australia this is a correct assumption.  Lesbian couples cannot currently marry in Australia, and if they get married overseas their marriages are not legally recognised here.  In any case, Orthodox Judaism does not currently recognise same-sex marriages anywhere in the world, so even if they could get married under a civil jurisdiction, they would not be considered married under Orthodox Jewish law.

What this doesn’t take into account is that at some time in the future lesbian couples may be able to get civilly married in Australia.  Given this possibility, it raises questions as to whether said lesbian egg donor, unmarried at the time of donation, would still be considered unmarried in the eyes of the Jewish law if she were to tie the knot with a same-sex partner under civil law.  Whilst this is not a concern of mine, it may need to be a consideration for the prospective parents.

What is of greater concern to me is the welfare of any child born from the gift of an egg to this couple by an unmarried lesbian donor.  Specifically, I would be concerned that this child might be raised in a manner that did not take into account that it may grow up to be same-sex attracted.  Given that Orthodox Jewish couples of strong religious observance do not typically consider homosexuality acceptable, the likelihood of such an inflexible upbringing is high.

Should the child turn out to be other than heterosexual, and assuming it was nonetheless expected to conform to heterosexual norms, there is an increased chance of negative mental health outcomes, self-harm and even suicide.  Current Australian scientific research1 shows that these scenarios are prevalent in religious environments intolerant of homosexuality.

The ethical dilemma for the egg donor, as I see it, is whether she should donate an egg to a couple, with the full knowledge that any child born of her egg and raised by this couple will potentially suffer due to the religious attitudes of the parents, if it turns out to be same-sex attracted.

How would the egg donor feel if this child experienced a life of misery because it was forced to conform to heterosexual norms?  Would that be an acceptable outcome to the donor?

Ultimately this decision is one for the egg donor to make.  Being party to the creation of life is not a responsibility to be taken lightly, and hopefully the donor would take this situation into account, along with any other considerations she may have.  Needless to say, all parties would want the best outcome for the child.  I just hope all parties understand the consequences of their actions and attitudes.

1. Refer Suicide Prevention Australia – GLBT Position Statement (PDF here)

4 Responses to Ethical Eggs | The Stirrer

  1. rigbyte says:

    Surely, if homosexuality is unacceptable, then a homosexually donated egg is unacceptable. It will be tainted. Furthermore, if yahweh is perfect, as Jews believe, and his purpose is to protect them, then it would be contrary to his wishes to conceive of a child when he has expressly shown he does not want that couple to bear children.
    More to the point, the planet is awash with humans. We are a plague on the earth. It is time to stop breeding… This could also be his message

  2. Eric Glare says:

    Would such a child conceived from a donor egg have a sense of morality and belong to Jewish community that was somewhat dependent on what the lesbian donor does in the future? What would happen if the lesbian decided she did after all wanted to parent and had a child through IVF or, worse it might seem, decided to do it the natural way with a gay man? This case highlights the hypocrisy of one’s morality being dependent on a non-active parent-egg donor and on one’s parents generally. You would think modern man would be aware that hereditary is not a great definer of morality.

  3. Fran Yule says:

    If this Jewish couple wants to do this by the book then they will have to make a private contract with a single heterosexual Jewess because there are no guarantees otherwise. Simple. Michael makes a good point about lesbians being the possible donors and I may add that there would be very, very few heterosexual single Jewish women who would offer eggs anyway because most of them would be aspiring to marry and have children some time, so it is likely the donor would be a lesbian in this case.

  4. Omlette says:

    Some – not all – Orthodox rabbis have ruled that an egg donor should not be married at the time of the donation because the child will be considered to have been born out of wedlock. This is because, in Jewish law, a child born out of wedlock, is considered a “mamzer”, a kind of status that precludes the child from participating in certain community rituals. It follows, that once the child has been born, whether or not the donor gets married should not have any baring on the status of the child. So, this couples logic is idiotic from a Halachic (“Jewish law”) perspective and they are simply making their lives difficult for themselves.

    I object to this ruling in the first place, because I think it gives the relationship between the donor and the child born through egg donation, to much importance. The woman who bears the child is the biological mother. The donor is simply providing some cells to get things started. Also, considering that there are such a short supply of egg donors in Australia, it is a travesty for Orthodox Rabbis to place even greater restrictions on the type of egg donor you use.

    rigbyte: I understand your concern for the environment, but it is a basic human desire to want to reproduce, something that no one should be deprived on. Just as gays and lesbians should not be deprived of the right to reproduce if they want to, even though their preferred form of sex does is not procreative, neither should someone with fertility issues.

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