Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Are Children Conceived Through IVF Spiritually Defective? -- Part II

Back in June, I commented on a column on Chabad.org by Rabbi Manis Friedman regarding couples who use IVF (and other assistive methods)* to have children. In his original article (no longer available at Chabad.org, but available here), he argues that children born through IVF are somehow spiritually deficient. He brings two examples of people whose conception was not 100% natural and how they required "correction" (his term) later in life.

This article generated a lot of debate and discussion at the time it was published and in the following months. Apparently, someone on the Imamother message board knows Rabbi Friedman and asked him for clarification of his statements. His response is below:

I am writing in response to questions received about an article of mine that appeared on Chabad.org about assisted reproduction.

Firstly let me note that the article was written as part of a symposium on the subject and was meant to present only one aspect of the discussion – namely the importance and significance of intimacy, and was not in any way intended to be a Halachic
ruling or direct instruction to individuals who required the blessing of assisted reproduction.

HaShem
created an incredibly intricate world with countless details. As students of Torah, we believe that no detail, large or small, is insignificant. Each creation is made a certain way for certain reasons.

If this is true of the growth of a single blade of grass, as the Baal Shem Tov teaches, then surely it is true of the birth of a child. If a child is born a certain way it is for a specific reason, and that reason is not trivial or dispensable.

The fact that a child is created from man and woman; the fact that the gestation period is nine months; the fact that birth involves contractions and labor; these are all necessary for the child’s future, as are all the other attending details. Should anything be changed or different, that would effect some quality or aspect of the baby’s health that would need to be compensated for.

Even conventional health professionals are coming to recognize that certain problems in adulthood can be traced to unusually difficult labor, premature birth, cesarean section, and other birth irregularities.

As the circumstances of birth do so effect the development of the child, it is important and helpful to know what those effects are and what particular circumstances may have contributed to their presence. For example, what are the special needs of a child born prematurely? Another example would be the lasting effect of separation from the mother too soon after birth. These effects can be physical or emotional and are not limited to childhood but last into adulthood.

To dismiss this would be irresponsible and detrimental to the child.

The same must be said of the importance and significance of the physical contact and relationship that leads to conception. It is simply irresponsible to take comfort in the mistaken belief that the absence of that intimacy will have no effect.

Like in a case where one must violate Shabbos to save a life – no one would ever argue that saving this life wasn’t an incredible mitzvah. And yet, there’s Teshuva
that needs to be done to rectify the “overridden” Shabbos. Or if a Rov instructs someone to break their fast on Yom Kippur, they should make up for the “lost” fast on another day – even though absolutely no sin or transgression was committed. Similarly, we need to pay attention to the assisted reproduction child’s “loss” while that does not in any way – whatsoever – imply guilt or wrongdoing on the part of the parents. It is a responsible recognition of the child’s unique condition, and, in fact, would be a natural extension of the selflessness that the parents have already clearly demonstrated!

There is no question that those who use assisted reproduction, when all else has failed, certainly love their child and very likely give them more affection than the regular birth child. There’s also no question that, having checked with a rov and following his instructions, that child will then be born completely in accordance with HaShem’s will.

But even a miracle baby may need some special attention to compensate for the lack of the physical, natural process – however miraculous. Like the Torah tells us of the Monn
food from heaven couldn’t satisfy like food from earth.

Therefore, my point about this process is that people should be aware. Parents should know that the physical intimacy of mother and father is necessary not only for them but for the child as well.

Practically, a child born through assisted reproduction might at some point in life, for example, need help with their own capacity for intimacy or closeness in interpersonal relationships. Should such a problem develop, parents should know where to look for the cause.

If, for example, a child shows signs of alienation or distance and cant seem to warm up to a relationship, the first thing to consider is to remedy the absence of intimacy in his or her own birth process. (And I would strongly encourage to seek out a good homeopathic doctor who will find the right remedy for the individual child.)

As I mentioned, this is the case with many birth irregularities. We know this is true of children who are weaned prematurely. The same would be true of a child who, because of an emergency, is whisked away from the mother before she could hold the child. There’s no question that in an emergency, the child should be whisked away and – in spite of the possibility for undesirable consequences – rushing the child away immediately is the right thing to do. But at the same time, we must not dismiss the trauma that that causes.

So when assisted reproduction is a necessary alternative and the circumstances are such that halacha allows it, then it is not only allowed but necessary and it facilitates the performance of this awesome mitzvah. But the original and natural method of conception holds benefit that this child will not be receiving, far more significant than the difference between, for example, mother’s milk or formula.

It is true, as many have pointed out, that the Messiras Nefesh
and emotional involvement of the parents in the assisted reproduction process, and the and deep bond it can create, may in fact compensate to a greater or lesser degree. But it is not a certainty that would render this conversation moot.

So, I am not disagreeing with Halacha and I am not dismissing, G-d forbid, the virtues and miracles of assisted reproduction. I’m only urging that in using these methods, we not pretend that nothing is missing.

In conclusion, this subject demands a lot of study and a lot of thought. The purpose of the original article was not to discuss the virtues of alternative birth processes, but to talk about the significance and importance of real, holy, sacred intimacy – something sorely lacking in modern society as a whole.

Those couples who have babies through assisted reproduction should be rewarded for their efforts and be blessed with only Nachas form their children and children’s children in the merit of their Mesiras Nefesh and may they never need any remedy or any compensating. But just in case… it’s good to know.

Wishing you and all of Klal Yisroel
a Gmar Chassima Tova.

Sincerely,
Rabbi Manis Friedman

I find this response just as troubling as the original article.

In this response, Rabbi Friedman brings examples of birth trauma and other traumas that happen in the womb affecting a child later in life. I'm not qualified to state whether or not people have memories going as far back as in the womb, so I won't comment on that aspect of the article. Yet, even if I grant that he is correct on this, that's a far cry from saying that a person can remember something from before their very conception. It's one thing to say that a baby "remembers" a c-section, a premature birth or a difficult labor. It's another thing entirely to say that it remembers something that happened prior to its own conception.

Furthermore, when he says:

It is simply irresponsible to take comfort in the mistaken belief that the absence of that intimacy will have no effect.

I'm curious as to why he thinks this? Does he have some scientific data to show that the lack of intimacy in the conception of a child is detrimental to the child? Has he done a study on this? Perhaps we should also account for the type of bra that the mother wore right before conception or the brand of mattress that was used. Is it "simply irresponsible" to dismiss these possible factors? No, it's not... simply because there is no data to show that they have any effect on the child. The same could be said for the lack of intimacy itself.

Now, if Rabbi Friedman were simply leaving matters in the spiritual realm (i.e. that such a child has spiritual difficulties), I could disagree with him, but not really disprove his point. However, he goes on further to state:

Practically, a child born through assisted reproduction might at some point in life, for example, need help with their own capacity for intimacy or closeness in interpersonal relationships. Should such a problem develop, parents should know where to look for the cause.

In other words, the problems that such children face are not only spiritual, but also emotional and social. Well, now, we have something that we can test for. Does he know of a study that shows that IVF children have these emotional and social problems? Does he have some data (even anecdotal) that we are not privy too? My guess would be no.

To be fair, he uses the weasel-word "might." But since he doesn't *know* what the effects are, he could just as easily have said any of the following:

  • Practically, a child born through assisted reproduction might, at some point in life, for example, be strangely drawn to fertility clinics.
  • Practically, a child born through assisted reproduction might, at some point in life, for example, show an unusual fondness for turkey basters.
  • Practically, a child born through assisted reproduction might, at some point in life, for example, have a desire to marry a lab technician.

All of the above have just as much scientific validity as his statement.

He tries to soften his criticism by stating that the parents of IVF children did nothing wrong, but even so, the kids need a fix. As he states:

Like in a case where one must violate Shabbos to save a life – no one would ever argue that saving this life wasn’t an incredible mitzvah. And yet, there’s Teshuva that needs to be done to rectify the “overridden” Shabbos. Or if a Rov instructs someone to break their fast on Yom Kippur, they should make up for the “lost” fast on another day – even though absolutely no sin or transgression was committed.

Now, I will grant that Rabbi Friedman knows far more about halacha than I do. But the above paragraph is downright puzzling. If one is required to override Shabbos to save a life, then it is a mitzvah to do so... and you should *never* need to do teshuva for doing a mitzvah. Part of teshuva is vowing not to do the same thing again in similar circumstances. How could a person do that... in the same circumstance, they are *required* to do the same thing. If one has to pick up the phone to call an ambulance on Shabbos, then I can't see how teshuva is required... if the same circumstance came up again, you'd do the same thing! I can't fathom the idea that Hatzoloh members, who respond to calls on Shabbos and Yom Tov have to do teshuva for their actions.

(That being said, I do recognize that it is possible to have to override Shabbos and still be at fault. One who leaves work late on Friday and now finds himself driving through a dangerous situation when Shabbos starts has to keep driving... but there is some negligence on his part and some teshuva is required there... but unless he is calling infertile parents negligent, then the two cases are not analogous.)

He goes on to state:

Similarly, we need to pay attention to the assisted reproduction child’s “loss” while that does not in any way – whatsoever – imply guilt or wrongdoing on the part of the parents.

That's fine, I suppose. The same logic applies to crack babies too -- it's not their fault, but there is, nonetheless, a serious problem. However, at least with crack babies, there is a measurable, observable deficiency that we can then use to go back to pregnant women and say "Don't smoke crack! If you do, your baby will have problems X, Y and Z." But in this case, we don't have any data as to what the problems will be... indeed, Rabbi Friedman didn't even come up with any conclusive problems at all!

Lastly, I found it interesting that while in this response he recommends searching for a homeopathic doctor to address problems that arise in such children, he did not do so in the original article. In the original article, the recommended method of overcoming problems with such children was the saying of Chitas (a Hebrew acronym for Chumash, Tehillim and Tanya).

In short, I'm not sure what Rabbi Friedman was hoping to gain with this response. He is making the mistake of comparing post-conception traumas to things that happen before conception (where no trauma is possible -- how can you traumatize that which does not yet exist?) and using faulty logic to show that some sort of "fix" is necessary to a problem that he himself is not sure exists.

The Wolf

Hat tip: OnionSoupMix
*(As in my last post, I'm using IVF as short-hand for all types of artificial reproductive assistance)

11 comments:

Lubab No More said...

There is no reason for the circumstances of conception to have any affect on the baby that is ultimately born. The only parts of the unborn baby existing at conception are the sperm and egg. Neither of these cells have any kind of emotional memory. The DNA they contain can't be changed by the emotions of the parent.

Rabbi Friedman's sources seem shaky and he appears to be extrapolating.

Anonymous said...

What this meshuggener said isn't worthy of notice, much less comment. It did evoke a few laughs.

Nice Jewish Guy said...

Oh, Lord. Where to begin?

Friedman:
The fact that a child is created from man and woman; the fact that the gestation period is nine months; the fact that birth involves contractions and labor; these are all necessary for the child’s future, as are all the other attending details. Should anything be changed or different, that would effect some quality or aspect of the baby’s health that would need to be compensated for.

Really... contractions and labor are necessary for the child's future? So what about cesarean births? Are children born from a scheduled C-section (like mine) also spiritually deficient? Listen to the absolute language he uses. "...would effect [sic] some quality or aspect of the baby’s health that would need to be compensated for." Amazing how he speaks with such confident authority. He knows.

Like the Torah tells us of the Monn food from heaven couldn’t satisfy like food from earth.

Um, where exactly does the Torah say that? Or is it a midrash, Rabbi Friedman?

If, for example, a child shows signs of alienation or distance and cant seem to warm up to a relationship, the first thing to consider is to remedy the absence of intimacy in his or her own birth process.

The FIRST thing? The very first thing, eh? Not his parents' relationship with their child or each other, not whether there was any other post-birth trauma or Ch'V abuse, but whether he was conceived through assisted reproductive methods.


(And I would strongly encourage to seek out a good homeopathic doctor who will find the right remedy for the individual child.)

Now Rabbi Friedman is giving health advice. What would a homeopath do, exactly? How is a 3X dilution of something going to counter a spiritual deficiency? Why not an iridologist? or a palm reader? Rabbi, your ignorance is really showing.

So when assisted reproduction is a necessary alternative and the circumstances are such that halacha allows it...

Why should halacha have to "allow" something that isn't inherently unallowable to begin with. Halacha doesn't have to allow me to drive a car on Sunday either.

But the original and natural method of conception holds benefit that this child will not be receiving...

HOW....DO...YOU...KNOW.

In God we trust. All others bring data.

It is true, as many have pointed out, that the Messiras Nefesh and emotional involvement of the parents in the assisted reproduction process, and the and deep bond it can create, may in fact compensate to a greater or lesser degree. But it is not a certainty that would render this conversation moot.

And Rabbi Friedman is certain of this.

He should be taken outside and soundly beaten with his black hat.

Anonymous said...

It is really hard to have any respect for such arrogance and ignorance.

I need to get rid of his book now.

thanks for posting

Kmelion said...

A woman on Imamother brings the following sources (in italics) to support Rabbi Friedman's argument.

1) Igeres Hakodesh of the Ramban (ch. 5) discusses that thoughts during intimacy affect the form of the sperm (perhaps what's known as DNA today).

Considering that couples going through ART have to have scheduled intercourse, I can honestly say that during those times, our thoughts are pretty much solely on the hope that THIS TIME will be the time.

2) Gemarra Brachos (5b) and the Shulchan Aruch discuss the affects that the position of the bed (!) have on the child.

I would heartily agree the position of the bed is important to those of us using ART to conceive our children... how comfortable the stirrups are, the pelvic tilt just so...

3) Siddur Beis Yaakov discusses the affects of both actions and thoughts during intimacy. It's a very popular Seifer, used by both Kallah and Chosson teachers. R' Yaakov Emdin writes there how each aspect of intimacy affects the different senses of the child.
He also writes how sometimes a Jewish soul goes into a non-Jewish body who later converts, just because the parents had the right thoughts during intimacy (and vice versa ch"v).


See #1.

4) Tanya (ch. 2) quotes the Zohar and discusses the power the parents have to give their child better Levushim for the Neshama. These Levushim give the child a stronger character and a better ability to overcome the Yetzer Hara.

Again, see #1.

5) The infamous Bnei 9 Midos, who are children of parents who did not behave properly during intimacy, brought down in many Sefarim, including the Shulchan Aruch. Amongst them are children whose parents hated each other, were drunk, thought about others (fantasized), were thinking of divorce, one was sleeping and more.

If a couple were going through the expense and often indignity of fertility treatments, do you really think they'd be hating one another?

One of the things I have a problem with is the fact that they (the woman who posted the above and R' Friedman) combine intimacy and conception.

Conception is more likely to happen when a woman is cleaning the bathroom, washing dishes, folding laundry, filling the car with gas or taking out the garbage.

Not very holy times. Not exactly the moment when she is praying to Hashem for a child.

R' Friedman writes: The same must be said of the importance and significance of the physical contact and relationship that leads to conception. It is simply irresponsible to take comfort in the mistaken belief that the absence of that intimacy will have no effect.

Who ever said there's an absence of physical contact and relationship?

Many of us who have gone through ART... believe me, when 'collecting the sperm sample' for IUI or IVF within the guidance of our Rabbis knowledgeable in Halachot and infertility, are sending out our most heartfelt prayer to haKadosh Baruch Hu that this time be a success. With all that goes on during 'collection', we and our partners are at our most committed to one another. Unless you've been through it, you cannot imagine the Mesirus Nefesh we AND OUR PARTNERS go through at this point... between the embarrassment of having to make a collection to rushing to the clinic within the allotted time to make the deposit (often with the sample in its cup, tucked in our bra or between our legs, if you'll excuse the vulgar image, to make sure it's kept as close to body temperature as possible).

During the procedure many of us, in a most undignified position will be reciting Tehillim. And there is not one day during that traditional '2 week wait' that we don't daven at least a dozen times that we're carrying a Bracha inside of us that we've gone to such lengths to make happen. If anything, the trials of ART brings us CLOSER to the Kedusha and understanding of where our children REALLY come from. If anything, a couple going through ART is MORE likely to be in the proper holy frame of mind at the actual time of conception.

I also find it ironic that Rabbi Friedman lists all sorts of post-birth traumas and yet fails to list Brit Milah. There is not one of us who has ever been to a Brit who can say that the baby in question is not experiencing SOME form of trauma at the time. Brit Milah is also one of those post-birth experiences that some men supposedly can remember and will forever be emotionally scarred. That reasoning is why so many people are anti-circumcision.

the junior said...

"The same must be said of the importance and significance of the physical contact and relationship that leads to conception. It is simply irresponsible to take comfort in the mistaken belief that the absence of that intimacy will have no effect."
Total and utter bollocks.
The guy's a tosser. He doesn't know what he's talking about. Need anything more be said?
Why waste time on this rubbish? Next subject, please!

eglantine said...

this is what happens when rabbis think they are psychologists and use psychological terms in a psychobabble fashion to bolster their arguments. just as i stick to my domain -- which is psychology -- let him stick to his. because psychology uses a lot or ordinary language terms does not mean that the layperson -- here the rabbi -- should be considered adn should consider himself proficient in the field. let me not get going. a while ago there was an article in one of the jewish weeklies by a teacher from lakewood who proudly declares that she has cured numerous cases of selective mutism. it is too stupid and too arrogant to bother educating these folks.
well, i know this is a sidepoint to this article by friedman -- very disturbing-- but i guess it got to me because i just came home from a day of work -- guess as one of those psychologists who actually went to school for years after the bachelor's in order to study this field which rabbi friedman picked up onthe fly.
well have a great sukkot. i need it.

SephardiLady said...

Recommending homeopathy makes me skeptical of the rest of the response.

-suitepotato- said...

So to put it incredibly bluntly physical contact between private parts is more important than the conception that results. My psychological take on it is that some Chassidim are a little bit too hung-up and repressed for their own good while at the same time a bit too pre-occupied with sex.

Good thing my wife and I aren't and accept that G-d has provided another avenue to conception than the one which hasn't worked for a decade of trying. She should remain barren then? No, I fail to see how IVF/etc are unholy. Men and women are doing me a kindness by dedicating their intellectual lives to find a way for us to have a child. I am thankful for that.

extratorah said...

There actually is a "documented" source for most of the claims made here.

With no undue disrespect to Rabbi Friedman, who obviously knows a good deal about halacha and Jewish Hashkafa, and who represents a valid and recognised stream of Judaism these claim are carefully "documented" ...

In the writings of Scientology ... The movement behind these texts (Religious Technology Center) presents these texts as "Scientific Studies", but many scientists disagree ...

Now before anyone blows their top, please allow me to explain.

One of the big "Things" in Scientology is that being brought into this world incorrectly demands intensive (and expensive) Scientology courses/counseling/treatments. Coincidentally born and Bred Scientologists need these sessions too!!

According to the fundamentalist presentation of this idea, it is better for the child/mother to risk certain aspects of childbirth (eg bloodflow problems to the brain potentially causing long term problems in the child) than to have the child live with the legacy of an incorrect birthing process.

The view of Judaism is the opposite of this. Nothing is more important than the short term situation of the mother/child. Every effort should be made, potentially violating (or should i say nullifying) other religious precepts in order to give the mother and child opportunity to build a life together, and have the strength to do what they need to do in this world.

Now I don't do "Chitas", but I know people who do, and I see it as a very valid and valuable seder limud (I, being from a different stream of Judaism have a different seder limud) but it is insulting to claim it is a tikkun for such defects. In fact virtually every full on Chabad person I know does Chitas, and most of them are surely lacking these "defects".

Unfortunately this is pop Psychology... Oh ... you have a problem ... do Chitas ... this is insulting to the Rebbes of Chabad.

More honest would be to say ... "You want to grow spiritually ... do Chitas .. then be-ezras Hashem yisborach you will gain the spiritual strength to overcome your own Nisyonos"

Mike said...

"Like in a case where one must violate Shabbos to save a life – no one would ever argue that saving this life wasn’t an incredible mitzvah. And yet, there’s Teshuva that needs to be done to rectify the “overridden” Shabbos. Or if a Rov instructs someone to break their fast on Yom Kippur, they should make up for the “lost” fast on another day"

This paragraph is SHEKER GOMUR. If a mohel does a bris on Shabbos which is the eighth day, does he need to do "teshuva"?