All Jewish couples should have same genetic tests, says Health Min.
All Jewish couples should have same genetic tests, says Health Min. Photo by AP
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Reurters
Microscopic image of a human egg cell. Photo by Reurters
Moti Milrod
A central laboratory at a health maintenance organization, Jan. 9, 2012. Photo by Moti Milrod

Jews should no longer be categorized by their ethnic origin when being tested  for hereditary conditions, says the Health Ministry. The mixing of Jewish communities - mixed heritage - has rendered such categorization pointless, the ministry's community genetics department says.

Because of the proliferation of "mixed marriages" between Jewish communities, as well as technological advances, a single set of tests for all Jews would do the trick, the ministry advises.

Genetic analysis institutes in health-care organizations and hospitals offer Jewish couples (typically trying to become pregnant) a series of genetic screening tests, looking for genes coding hereditary diseases such as Tay-Sachs. Which tests exactly each couple undergoes is based upon the ethnic category of each partner. For instance, Ashkenazi Jews are typically tested for Tay-Sachs, while Sephardic couples might not undergo such tests.

The Health Ministry recommends halting the practice of basing specific tests based on ethnicity, and to standardize genetic tests, which would be applied uniformly to all Jews.

A report prepared by Prof. Joel Zlotogora, director of the ministry's community genetics department, says: "Data indicate that apart from some Jews of Ashkenazi descent, in most cases Jewish participants in surveys have mixed ethnic origins and so the ability to classify Jews according to sub-ethnic groups is increasingly impaired. The best thing would be to administer genetic examinations in a uniform manner upon the entire Jewish population, and to nullify categories of ethnic affiliation."

"The introduction of new technology will soon enable uniform recommendations to be made concerning the Jewish population as a whole, without a connection to ethnic origin," said Zlotogora.

In parallel, the community genetics department recommends expanding the number of genetic tests offered as part of HMO health packages. Currently, most genetic tests are not included in these health packages and so they cost patients hundreds of shekels. The ministry recommendation calls for adding to HMO packages genetic tests for health conditions faced by at least one in 60 Israelis. The ministry also recommends that genetic tests should be available to young couples for diseases that occur in at least one out of 15,000 births.

In addition, the ministry called for adding to health packages tests on genes responsible for spinal muscular atrophy, which is connected to degenerative muscular conditions, as well as tests for fragile-X syndrome, which is associated with behavioral disorders such as autism. Recommendations of the type have been rejected in the past.