Egging them on
When it comes to fertility, childbirth and children, Israeli society is driven by conservative stagnation. different type of family, a new family, a single-gender family or a family without partners at all - anything goes as long as there are children.
An unusual approach was taken by Professor Rivka Carmi, dean of the medical school at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Be'er Sheva, at a press conference dealing with the case of Professor Zion Ben-Raphael, a gynecologist from Beilinson Hospital.
Ben-Raphael is facing a disciplinary hearing on a charge of giving women excessive, potentially life-threatening hormone doses in order to induce them to produce large numbers of eggs and then harvesting the eggs in private hospitals, either without the women's permission or in amounts exceeding those agreed upon.
Carmi expressed her outrage at the paternalism that allowed Ben-Raphael to conceal from the women that their eggs would be supplied to other women.
An exceptional individual in the academic world, in general, and in the medical profession, in particular, Carmi dared to talk about human values while most colleagues hid behind learned hemming and hawing. But her voice, lucid though it is, is rare. The attitude in Israel toward the affair of the eggs has been one of indifference and leniency.
When it comes to fertility, childbirth and children, Israeli society is driven by conservative stagnation, which is disguised as an enlightened discourse about the right to motherhood and to a family. A different type of family, a new family, a single-gender family or a family without partners at all - anything goes as long as there are children. This petrified thinking turns women's bodies, and especially women who are economically or socially weak, into instruments in the hands of rapacious physicians or those who are dizzied by research ambition, or both.
Israel is the world leader in the number of fertility units relative to population and in the public financing of fertility treatments. People who don't have children are considered miserable in the best case and egoistic monsters in the worst case. Children mean happiness, as Shlomo Bar sings in bitter irony to the poor who are "blessed" with children. Shas, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardi party to whom such humor is alien, uses the song as a serious, moralistic anthem. It's like adding insult to injury.
In Israel, a couple that finds it difficult to have children and wants to realize its great dream of creating a child using their own eggs and sperm has a mandate to do whatever it takes: undergoing innumerable fertility treatments that destroy the woman's body and health and make the couple's life a living hell; spending a fortune at urology and sexology clinics, some of which specialize in extracting money from scared people; using the stored sperm of a man who has been killed so that his 55-year-old wife will have a baby to perpetuate his memory, or so his sister will act as the host and have a baby that will console the whole family. And there was the famous case of Ruthie Nachmani, who carried the eggs that Danny Nachmani fertilized before they were divorced, even though he had started a new life with another woman.
Israel is also the only Westernized country that ignored the religious and social problems and passed a hasty law, in 1998, authorizing a special commission to allow a woman (only a married woman!) to pay another woman (only if she is a single mother!) to carry the egg of the married woman that has been fertilized by the husband. The first case of this kind, which produced twins at great risk - both psychological and physical - to the woman, should have been a wake-up call to the legislators that they had made a miserable mistake. But it wasn't: The important thing is to keep having more kids.
The child allowances, which were intended to encourage childbirth, are being slashed. The single mothers are told they can't raise children at the expense of the state, but the schools and the social welfare offices have no guidelines about teaching family planning. Now the health minister wants to expand the circle of women who can donate eggs so that not only women who undergo fertility treatment and are at risk because of excessive hormonal stimulation will be donors; at long last, the indigent single mothers will be able to be more than hosts. They will be allowed to turn their bodies into inflated reservoirs of eggs.
It's no wonder that Ben-Raphael could present himself as the savior of women. If the social legitimacy of women in Israel stems exclusively from their ability to show themselves as happy mothers, and if that ability, like any consumer commodity, is bought with plenty of money, then obviously there will be women who, whether knowingly or not, will sell their body to the highest bidder.