Monday, January 29, 2007


At this point in our discussions about donating embryos to Jenny and Erin my wife Sonia and I were feeling great about them. They were such good women and they clearly had a lot to share with a child. We just knew they would be phenomenal parents.

Sonia and I had endless discussions before our children were born to work out all the issues surrounding child-rearing. Obviously, more questions came up after the children were born but our experience working out our concerns together meant that we were able to resolve whatever came up.

Pre-kids, the most complicated issue between us was religion. I am not religious, Sonia is. I am Jewish. Sonia is not. I wanted to pass along a sense of Jewish heritage to our children. Sonia wanted them raised in a worship community. She wanted them to know God. Our compromise was a natural one: we would raise the children Jewish.

This was not a bargain I would strike with Jenny and Erin. If we gave them the embryos it would of course be without strings attached in terms of child rearing. We felt we had the right to know if children resulted from our donation, and our natural curiosity meant we wanted to see photos of those children to see if they resembled our own kids. For the safety of both families we would also ask for pertinent medical updates. That was all we felt comfortable requesting.

Discussing my concerns about the embryos' genetic heritage felt both important and wrong. I did not want to come across as in any way trying to control their family life but it was such an important issue to me I couldn't just let it go without some discussion.

Sonia and I talked a lot about how we might make some suggestions as to how non-Jewish parents could share a bit of their children's genetic heritage with them. We wanted to make sure our ideas did not come across as orders.

When we were first discussing how to create our children, Sonia and I approached my cousin. He is the only male relative of reproductive age on the side of my family that was killed in the Holocaust. He lives in another country, to which his grandmother escaped just before World War II. He agreed to donate his genetic material, as long as we fulfilled a laundry list of demands, including listing him on the birth certificate as the father and promising not to circumcise a male child.

Leaving aside the growing call in the medical community for circumcision as a means of reducing cervical cancer in women and AIDS infections in both men and women, his insistence on this was extremely offensive to both Sonia and me. If we became parents through his donation, we would be the parents, not him. He had no right to be listed on the birth certificate, thus blocking my right to adopt the child I was raising. Nor should he insist we forego a procedure which could save our child's life (several separate trials in various countries comparing AIDS infection rates among circumcised and non-circumcised men were halted recently. The studies revealed that circumcised men were 60% less likely to contract AIDS so it was considered unethical to continue to allow the uncircumcised men to be exposed to death. As reported in the New York Times this week, circumcision is as close to an AIDS "vaccine" as we are likely to get with this fast-mutating virus).

I knew why my cousin made his request: he hates being Jewish. He lives in an intensely anti-Semitic country and had confided in me that being circumcised had made him the target of anti-Jewish remarks in high school.

Circumcision is what is meant by the "Covenant of Israel". We are commanded to do it as a means of perfecting our sons and showing our submission to God's will. The fact that it incontrovertibly prevents disease is a modern discovery. Like much of Jewish law it amazes me that my people had the knowledge that this was healthful thousands of years ago.

If I could not trust the intended parents to safeguard their child with vaccinations and other protections against deadly disease, I was picking the wrong people. Making an embryo donation means finding someone whose judgement you trust to be a good parent, then wishing them well.

My cousin's inappropriate demand made us wary of making all but the most modest pre-donation requests of our recipients. How could I paint a picture of a good faith attempt to expose genetically Jewish children to their cultural heritage without sounding like my cousin? I looked to Sonia for her experience as a Christian raising Jews.