Progressively Speaking: The ethics of developing a ‘cure’ for menopause

Progressively Speaking: The ethics of developing a ‘cure’ for menopause

Rabbi Miriam Berger takes a topical issue and looks at a Reform Jewish response

Hot flush from menopause
Hot flush from menopause

It’s always the same outcry when there is an advancement in the medical world: the sudden fear that because we have the ability to do something, it will be used irresponsibly. Recent news of Professor Simon Fishel’s pioneering medical breakthrough to delay the onset of menopause is no exception.

Before we women say no more to the symptoms that might come with “the change”, such as hot flushes and uncontrollable moods, we should agree these medical delay tactics are not to be used lightly, and may not work for everyone.

My own hope in medical science included seeing IVF as the expensive “cure” to secondary infertility, which unfortunately left me deeply disappointed.  My mother-in-law lost her fight with leukaemia despite stem cell transplants being heralded as the “cure”.

Just because something should work doesn’t mean it always will.

As a rabbi thinking of whether medical advancements are ethical, I have to deal with a familiar challenge: “We shouldn’t play God.”

My only answer comes in the form of one of the oldest jokes – the one with three people in a boat with a leak who are left adrift in the middle of the ocean. When two are saved, the most pious of the three finds themselves at the Gates of Heaven addressing the Holy One, asking how their prayers could be ignored in the moment of grave danger.

God simply replies: “I sent you a life jacket and a rescue helicopter –what else am I to do?!”

However, I fear that with every new breakthrough, the much-loved NHS model becomes more unsustainable. It is a constant mathematical equation: does the cost of the new cure outweigh the costs of treatments that deal with the symptoms? When they don’t, it has added to the lottery of who will be awarded this respite and who will be left suffering.

With so many menopausal symptoms being those reported, but hard to quantify and measure, it may just be another treatment available only to a select few.

When women are suffering, many in silence, we cannot question whether this is a wonderful advancement. We can,  however, ask how we will pay for it, and how can we ensure it remains available to every woman, so it becomes a medical breakthrough to help those with the greatest need.

  • Rabbi Miriam Berger serves Finchley Reform Synagogue
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