But such a measure can be troublesome to some want-to-be mothers and fathers, particularly for Orthodox couples, who struggle greatly with how to reconcile God and the miracle of birth with science in this sensitive and often stressful matter.
In association with the Puah Institute of Brooklyn, the Center for Reproductive Medicine associated with Main Line Fertility Center, based at Bryn Mawr Hospital (and with other offices in Paoli and and Oaks), has introduced halachic supervision to its fertility services. In its literature, the Jerusalem-based Puah is described as "the institute for counseling, supervision and assistance in all matters concerning gynecology and fertility according to halachah."
"Our association with the Puah Institute will help us reach out to more and more Orthodox couples, who have religious concerns, naturally, and other concerns as well, and assure them that their hopes and wishes will be treated with absolute respect and care," explained Michael J. Glassner, M.D., medical director at the Center for Reproductive Medicine, in existence since 1988.
"Within Philadelphia's very vibrant Jewish community, what we're doing has been recognized as very, very positive. Orthodox rabbis are very happy about it, too, which is extremely important and gratifying to us, but the idea has raised lots of questions as well," continued the doctor, who confided that his own strong sense of Judaism has guided him greatly in the decision to begin halachic supervision to the area.
The questions to which the doctor alludes — including the major one: how well-supervised the fertility process is, especially according to a religious standpoint — have, he claims, been answered to all interested parties' satisfaction. Four Orthodox women from the Philadelphia area who received training at Puah provide supervision at Main Line Fertility.
The women, said Glassner, oversee every step of the fertility process — including in vitro fertilization (IVF) — for men and women. Medical testing, however, is excluded.
At the Puah Institute, Rivky Itzkowitz, director of supervision, the Americas, talked about the critical need for supervision: "Main Line Fertility is among the very best at taking all of the necessary precautions to safeguard the fertility process, but mistakes have happened at other fertility clinics. In several cases, embryos have been switched, so the supervision we provide must be there."
Puah, which provides free-of-charge fertility consultation to couples and individuals, has developed an unparalleled supervisory system that seeks to ensure the integrity of the entire fertility process, said Itzkowitz. Strict regulatory procedures, in use in hospitals and fertility clinics worldwide, have been formulated, and upon request, the institute will provide individual supervision of fertility treatments at more than 40 medical centers in the United States, Israel, Canada and France, she remarked.
Among safeguards in use at Main Line Fertility, Glassner noted, are metal boxes that hold fertilized eggs and that are locked before they are placed in an incubator in the lab.
"The locked box is called a puanit in Hebrew and is known also as a safety box. On day one, the eggs are called fertilized eggs and, on day two, are embryos," explained Itzkowitz.
The center is the only fertility site in Pennsylvania with which Puah works.
Understanding of Medicine
Training by the Puah Institute of the four local women, according to Itzkowitz, was and still is quite intense. "The women can call us with any questions and, at some point, [there will be] a written test — which will be sent to Israel for review — administered to the women, all of whom were hand-picked," she said.
Also, each of the women has an understanding of medicine and a quick grasp of it, said Itzkowitz.
So far, seven local Orthodox couples have conceived and had babies through the center, said its nurse coordinator, Amy Fisher, R.N., MSN, CRNP, noting that all have come to the center since the introduction of halachic supervision. "Appropriate halachic considerations were made in the care and treatment of these couples, but their treatment fell short of requiring either inseminations or IVF; therefore, the assistance of Puah was not required.
Continued Fisher: "Infertility treatment requirements range from simply educating a couple about fertility to using medications with timed intercourse to using advanced reproductive technologies, for example, IVF.
"Prior to our offering halachic supervision, we have seen Orthodox couples, one or two couples every two to three years. As for our general patient population, over the years, those couples are consistent with our area's diverse population."
One religious leader who has greeted the news with joyful enthusiasm and his full support is Rabbi Shraga Sherman of Chabad of the Main Line in Merion. "On my first visit to the clinic, I was incredibly impressed with the advances of modern science and equally excited by the Torah's response to managing those advances," he said.
Despite a number of ethical issues that surround fertility treatments, the rabbi said that he has "a tremendously positive feeling that Puah is able to bring the world of science and Torah together and that the clinic there in Bryn Mawr — the gateway for all of this — has now made this available."
Main Line Fertility and the Puah Institute are making people more aware of the God factor, he said.
"It's more than respect for the patient, in this very private and personal decision," he added. "It's respect for the process — and the joy that comes from that."
For more information about Main Line Fertility, call 610-526-8950, or log on to: www.mainlinefertility.com. To learn more about the Puah Institute, call 718-336-0603, or visit: www. puah.org.il.