(In)fertile Israel: The State as God in the Promised Land

Do we have a right to have children? If so, whose job is it to guarantee this right? These are tricky questions. On one hand we are faced with the biblical injunction to “be fruitful and multiply,” and on the other hand, there are those who are willing to lay aside any ethical considerations in order to fulfill that mandate.

Perhaps the much abused vernacular of “rights” is inappropriate for a discussion that’s better framed in terms of privilege and blessing. It seems that whenever rights are on the table, someone gets them wrong. This story out of Israel is a good example of the recklessness with which some seek the so-called right of parenthood:

Every Israeli woman, regardless of marital status, is entitled to have two children through in-vitro fertilization, no matter how many courses of treatment it takes, the cost of which is heavily subsidized by the state. In North America, such treatments can cost tens of thousands of dollars. And Israel performs more IVF than anywhere else in the world — an average of more than 3,300 cycles per million people in 2002 — compared with rates of between 200-300 in Canada and the United States.

But while Israel’s goals — to reinforce the value of the Jewish family in a state where birth rates of Jewish and Arab Israelis are carefully scrutinized — are generally popular here, this open-door approach to complicated reproductive technology is drawing increasing criticism, in part for providing treatment to some women who would be turned away from clinics elsewhere as unlikely to conceive.

When I was in Israel several years ago, I asked an Israeli how he felt about its socialist government. He said that he didn’t mind the loss of freedoms and high taxes because he felt that they needed it in order to be more secure. While I found the inherent security of socialism questionable, my friend’s answer reflected typical statist thinking — the assumed goodwill of the state, and the general acknowledgment of its supremacy.

It seems in this instance that the state of Israel is putting itself in the place of God. Indeed, the article goes on:

“The first [instruction] we have in the Bible is ‘be fruitful and multiply,’ ” said Avraham Steinberg, a professor of medical ethics at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. “This combination of, on one hand, having an ideology to have children and seeing this as a blessing, and on the other hand having this survivor philosophy – this combination calls for this state support for fertility. I think it’s worth it, based on the principle that couples who have a chance should be given a chance.”

Who is the giver of this chance? The state, of course — and a state that serves as guarantor of fertility attempts to fulfill a role that only God can. Notice here how easily the blessing is cast aside in place of the pragmatic need for “survival.” Sadly, the casualty in this type of survival is the soul of a nation. When families and their children become bodies rather than blessings, mankind has devolved into mechanism.

1 thought on “(In)fertile Israel: The State as God in the Promised Land”

  1. Thanks for pointing this out. I had no idea in vitro fertilization was so prevalent in Israel. You’re right–it demonstrates a lack of faith in God’s provision. Israel is secure, and will remain secure, only because it is God’s will.

    Unfortunately, Israel’s in vitro fertilization practices also undoubtedly means the creation of untold numbers of babies who will die in a lab.

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