Supervising Life

Two women shared a room in a major Israeli hospital some
years ago, both awaiting the insemination portion of in vitro fertilization
(IVF) treatment. One of the women, “Mrs. Cohen,” was undergoing the procedure
under the supervision of a mashgiach [religious supervisor] from Machon Puah — 
an Israeli religious fertility institution —  and the other, “Mrs. Rabinovich,”
was not.

Mrs. Cohen was scheduled to be inseminated first, but she
went to use the bathroom moments before the process started, so  the doctor
scheduled Mrs. Rabinovich to go instead. The laboratory assistant, who had
prepared the test tubes, had not been informed of the change, and so he handed
the doctor the syringe for Mrs. Cohen.

The doctor stood there with the syringe in his hand, about
the inject it into the second woman, when the mashgiach stopped the process,
reminding the doctor that the correct procedure before insemination is to ask
the woman’s name. “Is your name Mrs. Cohen?” the doctor asked, reading the name
off the tube in his hand, forgetting that Mrs. Cohen was in the bathroom. The
woman, who was in a state of utter drowsiness, nodded her head. The doctor
repeated the question, and again, she answered in the affirmative. Finally, the
mashgiach said, “What is your name?” and she answered “Mrs. Rabinovich.”

“The tube the doctor was about to inject in her was for Mrs.
Cohen,” said Miriam Ben David a volunteer and fundraiser for Machon Puah. “The
mashgiach really prevented a terrible mistake.”

Preventing terrible, life-altering mistakes is the raison
d’etre of Machon Puah, an institutition named after the midwife who defied
Pharoah’s orders to kill the male Hebrew babies, as well as the Hebrew acronym
for Poriut Urefuah Al Pi Halachah — fertility and medicine in accordance with
Jewish law. The Machon was established in 1990 by Rabbi Menachem Burstein under
the auspices of Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the chief rabbi of Israel, to address
fertility needs in the ultra-Orthodox community in Israel, and to assuage the
consciences of religious Jews who had preconceptions about fertility

“The rabbis were seeing that a lot of infertile religious
couples were unwilling to undergo fertility treatments, for two main reasons,”
said Rabbi Gideon Weitzman, the head of the English-speaking section of Machon
Puah. “The first was that there was really no clear comprehensive guide,
neither written nor verbal about what fertility treatments and testing were
permitted halachically, and the other problem was that there was a serious
concern that there would be mistakes made in the lab resulting in the wrong
embryos being transferred to couples.”

So Burstein started to identify all the available fertility
treatments to ascertain their halachic viability and a “kosher” supervision
service on IVF treatments was established.

Today Machon Puah, which is located in Jerusalem and funded
by donations, offers a number of services to couples that are having difficulty
conceiving. The first is a free counseling service, where couples can meet with
one of eight rabbis well-versed in all matters of gynecology and fertility who
can advise the couples about the different treatments available, and can direct
them to the top doctors in Israel who deal with the problems.

“Many of the doctors who are seeing patients often don’t
have enough time to explain a game plan to the patients,” Weitzman said. “We
have the time to do that, because we are not clinical, so we can explain to a
couple what the process is, and we can build a long-term strategy with them.”

The other service that Machon Puah offers is the
aforementioned supervision, where a religious supervisor checks the artificial
insemination proceedings to ensure that no mistakes happen. This service costs
$30 for an intrauterine insemination, and $80 for IVF. In the 12 years that
Machon Puah has been offering the service, its supervisors have caught 19
errors in the thousands of inseminations they supervised.

“Nineteen is not a huge number, but it is definitely a
significant number” Weitzman said.

So has the terror in Israel dampened the desires of couples
wanting to conceive?

“If anything, just the opposite,” Weitzman said. “We have
seen a baby boom. The answer to the problem that the Jews are having in Israel
is to increase the population. The answer to terrorism is to have more

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