Some of the halachic hurdles that surround fertility therapy are
absent when it comes to in vitro fertilization, because in this
therapy the embryo results from the husband’s sperm fertilizing the
wife’s ova. However, there are some issues that result from this
form of infertility treatment that has garnered great controversy.
There are halachic questions that arise with IVF (In Vitro
Fertilization) and one of them concerns the leftover and unused
embryos. Practitioners are faced with the issue of what is the
status of unused embryos after IVF is completed?
Infertility practitioners tend to fertilize more eggs in embryos
than are going to be implanted in the woman’s womb. This is to allow
for multiple trials toward achieving a viable pregnancy. The
leftover embryos are usually frozen and can be used for multiple
purposes, or can be thawed and discarded.
What is done with the extra embryos has elicited complicated
halachic and ethical questions. Halachic discussion
centers on the question of when life begins and determines different
rabbinic responsa on what can be done to the embryos.
A well-respected Orthodox rabbi, J. David Bleich, who has written
extensively about these issues, recommends that the number of eggs
fertilized should correspond exactly with the number implanted. This
avoids the problems surrounding disposal of the unused embryos but
also lessens the possibility of success. Some halachic
authorities are in favor of letting them remain frozen for future
use by the couple, while others permit allowing the cells to thaw
and naturally expire. There are some orthodox rabbinic opinions that
allow the use of the embryos for stem cell research.
The United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism supports using
unused embryos for stem cell research.
Reform scholars have permitted the embryos’ donation to other
infertile couples, because the possibility of the resulting children
becoming involved in a potentially incestuous relationship is
remote. They strongly support use of unused embryos for stem cell
research; however do not advocate creation of embryos for that
Conservative and Reform Rabbis differ in opinion from the
Orthodox point of view. Read more about the different
therapies and the Jewish Perspective of the major streams of