QUESTION: A couple is unable to have children. The wife's first
cousin had agreed to donate ova for in vitro fertilization with the husband's sperm. It will be subsequently implanted into the wife's womb. Is there a question of incest? (Rabbi H. Silver, West Hartford, CN)
ANSWER: The question of artificial insemination has
been dealt with in two responsa by Solomon B. Freehof and Alexander Guttman in 1952 (W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, #157, 158). There are, however, two substantial differences between the question raised here and these responsa. In that instance the sperm of a stranger was used to fertilize the ova of the wife; the situation here is reversed as the husband's sperm will be used and the ova will be that of another person. Secondly, in the previous responsa the donor was not known while here the ova of the cousin will be used. As the source of the ova is known, one of the traditional objections to artificial insemination is removed. Orthodox authorities fear that the youngster produced by such insemination might inadvertently marry incestuously. In this case, as he would know his ancestry, that could not occur.
Now we must ask whether it is possible to use the ova of the wife's first
cousin. It is clear that in the days of bigamy or other forms of multiple marriage like concubinage, it was possible for a first cousin to marry the same husband. The details of concubinage are discussed in a separate responsum (W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, # 133). Polygamy has, of course, been prohibited for Ashkenazic Jews since the decree of Rabenu Gershom in the eleventh century. If it were still permitted offsprings of such a marriage would be considered kasher In this instance no marriage will take place; the ovum will be fertilized in vitroand then placed in the womb of the wife.
We must carefully
consider some other potential problems, however. As the source of the ovum will be known to both the parents and possibly the child, this may cause psychological difficulties. In case of normal family strife, will this situation aggravate matters? Are any pressures for donation being applied to the cousin? These and other issues must be carefully discussed with competent experts and a good deal of counseling must occur with the couple and also with the prospective donor. As the current divorce rate is high it would be wise to discuss this possibility and its ramifications also, painful though it may be. The possibility of a defective child should also be discussed.
Peru ur'vu is of course a major mitzvah and children are
mentioned as an essential element of marriage many times by the traditional sources (M. Ye. 6.6; Nidda 13b; Ket. 8a; Yeb 61b; Yad Hil. Ishut 15.6; Tur and Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 1.5) and lack of children was considered grounds for divorce (Shulhan Arukh Even Haezer 1.3 f, 154.10) although others disagreed. The mitzvah may, of course, be fulfilled through adoption ("Adoption and Adopted Children," W. Jacob, American Reform Responsa, # 63); this couple has chosen a different route. We would give reluctant permission to use in vitro fertilization in the manner you have described. The potential problems are numerous and should lead to great caution.
If needed, please consult Abbreviations used in CCAR Responsa.