Newsletter : 6fax0927.txt
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Publisher\Editor Don Canaan
Sept. 27, 1996 V4, #179
All the News the Big Guys Missed
High Court Rules Separated Couple's Frozen Embryo May be Implanted
By Al Pessin (VOA-Jerusalem)
The Israeli Supreme Court has issued a ruling which could
have far-reaching implications in a new and growing field of law
related to the use of modern technology in childbirth.
The court said a woman may have a frozen embryo implanted in a
surrogate mother even though she is separated from the embryo's
father and he objects to the plan.
The ruling does not have any legal authority outside Israel. But
such decisions are looked at carefully across international borders
as judges in more countries find themselves in the position of
making law on new and emotionally-charged subjects. VOA's Al
Pessin reports from Jerusalem on the ground-breaking case of
Danny and Ruthi Nachmani.
Danny and Ruthi were a happy couple in the early 1980s when they
faced a family tragedy. Ruthi developed cancer and had to have a
hysterectomy. She recovered from the cancer, but she could no
longer have children.
Like a growing number of couples around the world, and particularly
in Israel, the Nachmanis turned to modern medical technology to
solve their problem. Their doctors used eggs from Ruthi and sperm
from Danny to perform several in-vitro fertilizations -- they made
several test-tube babies -- and froze the embryos which resulted.
Then the couple went to the courts and fought to create a system
in Israel of surrogate motherhood -- and they won. They could
have been the first couple to have one of their embryos implanted
in another woman, who would give birth to their child.
But in the intervening years, Danny changed his mind. He left
Ruthi for another woman. When she tried to use one of the frozen
embryos, he sued to stop her, and he won. But the Israeli Supreme
Court, by a vote of 7-4, overturned that decision.
The court said Ruthi, now 42 years old, has the right to take the
embryos from the laboratory and have them implanted in a surrogate
mother, despite Danny's objections. Israeli experts are divided on
the wisdom of the decision.
Carmel Shalev is an attorney specializing in such issues, and the
author of a book called "Birth Power." "My personal view is that
this is an abuse of our birth power. I do not think that we women
should be using our birth power to manipulate men into unwanted
parenthood. I think that we have had enough of unwanted motherhood,
and I do not think that we are getting any justice done by forcing
fatherhood on men."
But Ofra Friedman, president of Na'amat, Israel's largest women's
rights organization, says no one is forcing anything on anyone.
"It was with the very full consent of Danny Nachmani to be a
father at the beginning. When he, at the beginning, wanted to do
it, now he refused. He cannot return the thing back. That is
something that was done. And they said we have to prefer and their
is a priority of the wish of Ruthi to be a mother than the
wish of him not to be a father."
In fact, the court ruled specifically that Danny Nachmani's
decision to begin the process of in-vitro fertilization was
Mrs. Nachmani's supporters, including Ofra Friedman of the women's
group, say Danny can no more prevent Ruthi from using the frozen
embryo than he could force her to have an abortion, or disown a
child to whom she had already given birth.
"Of course, there are all the obligations of a father, the
obligations of paying for him. He is a biological father and the
right of inheritance and others, if we will not change them.
Because he is the legitimate child of both of them. And that is
what the court decided, that he is a father and he cannot refuse to
be a father."
Some critics of the Supreme Court decision say adopting that
approach leaves men open to the whims of former wives or lovers
who would have the power to saddle them with obligations for
children they no longer want to have. But Friedman says on
the one hand fathers would also have the right to use the
embryos, and on the other hand she believes neither men nor women
would exercise such a right against their former partner's wishes
except in very special circumstances, such as the Nachmani case.
The case raises other issues as well. Expert Carmel Shalev
reports, per capita, Israelis make more use of such
childbirth-oriented medical technology than any other people in
the world. She says the reason is the high value placed on having
children, combined with Israel's advanced medical facilities and
relatively high incomes.
She believes this same child-oriented viewpoint -- rooted in
Israel's Jewish heritage -- resulted in some emotionalism by the
Supreme Court justices in this case.
"It probably stems from some kind of bias that we have about women
and motherhood, which I am not sure is in favor of women."
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