Torah Tidbits

2 September 2014 / 7 Elul 5774
Issue 1023
Shabbat Parshat Vayishlach
November 29, 2012

"From Machon Puah"

Uterine Transplants - Castration?

We continue this week with our discussion of the novel medical procedure of uterine transplants where a mother donated her uterus to her daughter in order for her to be able to get pregnant and carry a baby.
We have already seen that there are halachic problems such as causing damage to one’s body and undergoing a potentially dangerous procedure. This week we will look at another halachic problem that uterine transplants present.
The Torah (Vayikra 22:24) prohibits castrating animals and the Gemara (Shabbat 110b) teaches that this includes humans and that there is a Torah prohibition against castrating humans. There is a debate and a difference of opinion as to whether this Torah prohibition includes women, but everyone agrees that there is at least a rabbinic prohibition against female castration.
Therefore to remove the uterus of the donor would appear to be forbidden. However, there is a difference of opinions as to reason for the prohibition of castration. Some hold that it is due to damaging the reproductive organs and therefore any damage to these organs would be prohibited. Others are of the opinion that the reason is that this compromises the ability to have children and therefore only if this procedure would affect fertility would it be prohibited - but if the procedure did not affect fertility then it would be permitted. In fact we could translate the term sirus as either castration which would imply an action that damaged the reproductive organs, or as sterilization which means affecting fertility.
The application of this would be in the case that actually was performed recently in Sweden. In this case a mother donated her uterus to her daughter and the mother was already post-menopause and was not able to become pregnant naturally on her own. In such a procedure, her fertility has not been affected and this would not be considered to be sirus.
According to the opinions that sirus is compromising fertility then if the donor is unable to have children due to her age or for another medical reason then she would be permitted to remove her uterus and then donate it to another woman.
So the procedure includes three possible halachic problems for the donor; causing damage to one’s body, undergoing danger, and castration, but all of them can be permitted in certain circumstances.
What about the recipient? - More on that 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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