Health Minister Okays Import of Human Embryos and Ova

In an unprecedented move involving an amendment to the regulations of the In Vitro Law, Health Minister Nissim Dahan has authorized the importing of frozen human embryos and ova fertilized by semen from abroad. Till now, ova have been procured from abroad through direct or indirect payments to women.

The amendment to the regulations was approved by the Justice Ministry and comes in response to a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice by some 90 women who are undergoing fertility treatments and a gynecologist from the American Medical Center in Rishon Letzion.

Dahan signed the new regulations last week and they will go into effect as of February 2002.

This is the first time that the Health Ministry has permitted the importing of human organs or tissues that have been purchased for money. A number of senior sources in the health establishment, including high-ranking officials at the Health Ministry, have criticized the new policy, arguing that doctors could interpret the amended regulations as permission to trade in human tissue, including organs for transplant purposes.

The Health Ministry also announced that in the near future, representatives from the ministry would be traveling to Romania - from where most Israelis import ova - so as to examine the handling and fertilization conditions at hospitals in Bucharest where the procedures are carried out. Ova are also imported to Israel from Cyprus and Hungary.

The petitioners told the High Court that they had been affected by the drastic fall over the past two years in the willingness of Israeli women to donate ova following exposure of the ova-trading affair. As previously published in Ha'aretz, senior Israeli gynecologists are suspected of placing women at risk by using fertility drugs to cause them to produce large numbers of ova and then extracting the ova without their consent. The matter is pending a decision by the State Prosecutor's Office, following a police investigation.