Israel – Litzman Supports Bill to Ease Egg Donations But Religion of Donor’s to be Stated

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    Yakov Litzman in the Knesset (Israel's parliament) in Jerusalem, on June 08, 2009 . Archived Photo by Abir Sultan/Flash 9Israel – After 10 years of negotiations, a bill setting guidelines for egg donations will be presented tomorrow for government approval. The new measure is intended to ease restrictions that in the past encouraged Israeli women with fertility problems to travel abroad to gain access to assisted reproductive technology.

    Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman agreed to support the legislation after it won the backing of prominent rabbinical authorities. The rabbis, in turn, agreed to support the bill after it was amended to allow the donor’s religion to be stated. Another clause was added, requiring an individual born from an egg donated by a non-Jewish woman to undergo a conversion process later in life in order to be considered Jewish.

    Litzman will present the Health Ministry-drafted bill to the Ministerial Committee for Legislation. The measure was passed in a preliminary reading by the previous Knesset, but was since withheld from the legislative agenda for unspecified reasons. The ministerial panel said two weeks ago that it would support a parallel bill if Litzman persists in withholding the original legislation.

    The new measure was initiated by MKs Rachel Adatto (Kadima) and Aryeh Eldad (National Union), both of whom are certified physicians. The two bills – which are identical in content – are aimed at expanding the circle of women eligible to donate and receive eggs, and codifying regulations for paying donors.

    The existing law allows only women undergoing fertility treatments to donate ova, or women who could stand to benefit medically by having their eggs harvested.

    Narrow legal restrictions led to a severe egg shortage in Israel in recent years, and women seeking egg donations were forced to obtain them abroad.

    Ovum donations have fallen dramatically since 2000, when a police investigation exposed certain doctors removing large number of egg cells from patients unaware of the procedure, or who had agreed to donate much smaller cell samples than were taken. The medical license of the highest-profile physician implicated in the affair, gynecologist Zion Ben-Rafael, was revoked in March 2007 for two and a half years.

    Six months ago, Romanian police exposed allegations against the Israeli-operated Sabyc clinic in Bucharest, which allegedly trafficked in human egg cells. Authorities estimate that some 250 Israelis traveled to the clinic each month to receive donations, each of which cost NIS 20-30,000.

    The new legislation would allow Israeli women between the ages of 20 and 35 to donate ova. Payment for donors has not been determined, but is expected to be set at NIS 6,000. Compensation for egg donors would be higher than that for sperm donors, as ova harvesting requires patients to undergo hormone treatment.

    The bill stipulates that a woman suffering from fertility problems can request an egg donation between the ages of 18 and 51, and have expenses covered by Israel’s health basket. The law designates egg donation as anonymous, and a baby born through in vitro fertilization will be legally considered the child of the recipient.

    A genetic database will allow individuals 18 years and over to check whether they were conceived through third-party reproduction without exposing the identity of the egg donor. Couples wishing to marry, in which one partner was born through in vitro fertilization, will be able to check the database to determine whether they have any biological ties to their prospective spouse.

    The database will also allow egg recipients to ascertain the donor’s religion. In certain cases, the new law would allow a recipient to choose a donor. The bill, however, prohibits healthy Israeli women from undergoing hormone treatment to travel abroad to donate eggs.

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