Nonprofit associations dedicated to guaranteeing that fertility treatments comply with Jewish religious law (halakha) are thriving in Israel.
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According to a study conducted by Haaretz (and reported by Dan Even in Friday's Hebrew edition), there are at least seven such organizations providing services to more than 3,000 couples a year combined. The largest of these organizations, Bonei Olam and the PUAH Institute, are supported by several government ministries, primarily by the Religious Services Ministry.
These NGOs are creating a new model of private medicine, using public funds to subsidize services that are not included in the state-supported "basket" of health goods and services available to all Israelis. Their main services are kashrut supervision at IVF clinics and choosing surgeons at government hospitals, the latter in apparent violation of Health Ministry regulations.
PUAH deploys around 50 kashrut supervisors in Israeli hospitals to ensure that no mistakes are made in mixing sperm and eggs during the in vitro fertilization process. The institute receives up to NIS 1,300 per couple from the Religious Services Ministry for this service. It charges each couple an additional NIS 215 to NIS 360, depending on the precise services rendered.
The PUAH Institute claims to have prevented 37 errors in 15 years of providing this service. This, however, does not explain why the state is underwriting private medical services for a particular segment of the population. Is it that only the ultra-Orthodox deserve double oversight of the combining of eggs and sperm - oversight by both the fertility center and the kashrut supervisors? Do non-Haredim undergoing IVF not deserve the same protections? And what about the medical training of these kashrut supervisors? Who decides that they have the skills needed for the job? And why are they given access to confidential medical information?
Most hospitals cooperate with the NGOs' activities out of fear that their patients might switch to a rival hospital and deprive them of an important revenue stream. But it's the state, not the hospitals, that is supposed to prevent such lapses. Once again, the Israeli government is violating the public trust by enabling a particular community to receive significant favors at the expense of all citizens.