A Right to be a Parent? IVF in Israel

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Today’s New York Times has this interesting story on reproductive medicine in Israel.  In “Where Families Are Prized, Help Is Free,” Dina Kraft reports:

Jewish and Arab, straight and gay, secular and religious, the patients who come to Assuta Hospital in Tel Aviv every day are united by a single hope: that medical science will bring them a baby.

Israel is the world capital of in vitro fertilization and the hospital, which performs about 7,000 of the procedures each year, is one of the busiest fertilization clinics in the world. * * *

Israelis already have a high fertility rate: an average of 2.9 children per family. Beyond the biblical imperative to be fruitful, some Israeli Jews remain concerned with replenishing their numbers in the wake of the Holocaust.

Demographics here are also political. Israel has historically focused on promoting Jewish birthrates to retain a Jewish majority and more recently as a counterweight to higher fertility rates of Palestinians in the occupied territories. Arab citizens of Israel, however, have the same rights to state-paid fertility treatments as their Jewish counterparts.

A survey published by the journal Human Reproduction Update in 2002 showed that 1,657 in vitro fertilization procedures per million people per year were performed in Israel, compared with 899 in Iceland, the country with the second highest rate, and 126 in the United States, which trailed far behind European countries.

Experts say Israel’s rate still far outstrips the rest of the world. Four percent of Israeli children today are the products of in vitro fertilization, compared with about 1 percent estimated in the United States.

The full article is here.

I knew that Israel financed IVF treatments, but I didn’t realize just how common IVF is there. 1,657 IVF procedures per million people in Israel versus 126 per million in the United States!  I’m also interested in the way that access to reproductive medicine is framed by one of the patients interviewed for the story:  “There is something deeply humane about this policy, this idea that people have the right to be parents,” [a 32-year old woman] said. “It’s something that characterizes life here: the value placed on life.”

As an initial matter, I can’t even get my U.S.-trained brain around the idea of a right to be a parent.  I can grasp notions like “privacy” and “liberty” and how those rights extend to reproductive practices and adult consensual sexual relationships.  A rich line of cases suggests a right not to be a parent, in the context of divorce-related disputes over frozen pre-embryos.  See Tracey S. Pachman, “Disputes Over Frozen Preembryos and the ‘Right Not to Be a Parent,’” 12 Colum. J. Gender & L. 128 (2003).  But a right to be a parent seems entirely different.  What would a “right” to be a parent mean for those adults who are not parents?  Those who do not want to be parents?  Would a “right” to be a parent limit choices for women (and men)?  Might it mean that those who are not parents are somehow lesser participants in the exercise of democratic citizenship?

-Bridget Crawford

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