What does the Torah say about… egg banks?

With Rabbi Garry WAYLAND.

THE FIRST private egg bank recently opened in London, aiding those who cannot produce their own healthy eggs to have the opportunity to conceive through IVF.

The scarcity of egg donors in the UK has previously meant that those who need eggs would have to endure long waiting lists, or take arduous, expensive trips abroad. While payment for eggs is illegal in this country, the clinic pays costs, and is hoping many more women will come forward to offer the gift of life to those who have been desperately waiting thus far.

What does the Torah say about egg donation? The status of surrogate motherhood has been debated by rabbinic authorities since the possibility of a woman giving birth to a baby not of her own eggs started to become a scientific reality. Jewish status is determined by maternity.

However, is maternity defined by the woman who provides the genetic material or who gives birth to the child? Secular law differs on the question, and different countries – and, in the US, even different states – legislate differently.

In the UK, the surrogate is the legal parent, and it is her prerogative to give it to the genetic mother, who then initiates proceedings to become the legal parent. The rabbinic authorities have not yet come to a consensus to this difficult question. Some rule that genetics are decisive; others say it is birth, whereas others say it is a matter of doubt. When a Jewish couple wishes to use a surrogate mother, the problem of Jewish identity can be resolved by ensuring the child is converted.

However, in the cases where a Jew acts as a surrogate or donates her eggs to a non-Jew, the child born could be considered as possibly Jewish, despite the fact the birth parent is not.

The gift of life is a precious one, and those who wish to help others achieve it are to be blessed, supported and encouraged. However, due to the myriad of halachic problems involved, it is essential that a woman who is looking into taking these paths should consult with her rabbi to ensure these problems are dealt with appropriately.

• Chana offers emotional and practical support, as well as medical and halachic advice, to those experiencing fertility problems. Details: 020 8201 5774.