Torah Tidbits

3 September 2014 / 8 Elul 5774
Issue 1036
Shabbat Parshat Ki Tisa
February 28, 2013

"From Machon Puah"

Genetic Information

We will continue discussing Prof. Borochowitz’s lecture at the recent Puah Annual Rabbinic Conference held in Jerusalem. He is an expert in genetics and he discussed the possibilities of genetic testing today.
While warning about the dangers of depressing genetic diversity he explained that the information to be gleaned from genetic testing is tremendous and extremely important since this information is personal and unchangeable. While people can change many things about themselves; their name, outward appearance and even gender, no one can change their genetic code. This genetic knowledge can also accurately predict future medical conditions and this often has ramifications for the entire family.
This information could be sought after by employers or insurance companies and could be used to bar access of certain people to employment or opportunities due to their genetic makeup.
We can only imagine a world in which this information can be accessed and used against people. Therefore in many countries there has been legislation to limit access to this personal information and to give accurate information without sharing it with other parties.
On the other hand, this information can be essential and the individuals involved would like to have accurate information. One of the best times to test this is during pregnancy and today there are a number of ways of obtaining this information, either through chorionic villus sampling (CVS) where a sample of the placental tissue is removed using a needle during the first trimester of pregnancy, or though amniocentesis where some of the amniotic fluid is removed through a needle later in the pregnancy. While these two tests are accurate they do present potential danger to the fetus and can initiate a miscarriage. In trying to ascertain the genetic health of a child we can in fact cause irreparable harm or even the death of the unborn child.
Due to this potential danger many couples choose to forgo this type of testing. For most couples this has no ramifications and they will still have healthy children. However genetic testing could reveal extremely important information, especially when dealing with older couples, since the chance of genetic abnormalities increases significantly with maternal age.
Therefore there is often a question raised as to whether to advise a couple to undergo CVS or amniocentesis in order to obtain this information, or to advise them to not undergo these tests due to the danger at the expense of not knowing essential information that could have been found out.
Is not knowing better than knowing?  More on this next week.

Rabbi Gideon Weitzman

The Puah Institute is based in Jerusalem and helps couples from all over the world who are experiencing fertility problems. Puah offers free counseling in five languages, halachic supervision, and educational programs. Offices in Jerusalem, New York, Los Angeles and Paris. Contact: (02) 651-5050 (Isr).

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