Sunday, June 01, 2008

Israelis clown around to make babies

A recent medical study in Israel shows that laughter therapy following IVF boosted fertility by 15 per cent. (200 women participated in this unusual study; the one hitch is that it cited no statistics on how many Israelis also suffer from coulrophobia, fear of clowns, which would certainly contraindicate this technique!) In the general population, this clown-phobia is estimated to be as high as 7 percent; the infertile number about seven per cent in developed countries, but surely this is not necessarily the same seven per cent!

Besides laughter therapy, Israeli doctors have innovated many effective IVF procedures to complement their "fertility tourism" packages. Interestingly, academic degrees in medical clowning have been on offer at the U of Haifa since late 2006. Now many state hospitals hire trained medical clowns to boost the nursing staff, apparently. (Shades of Patch Adams?)

Check out the link to Jerusalem Post's "Laughter is the Best Fertility Medicine"

Nicky Blackburn reported for the London Times several years back:

For many Israeli couples IVF treatments become a way of life. Some women undergo 20, 30 — even 35. IVF is by no means an easy procedure, but the women are prepared to do anything if it gives them a chance to have a baby of their own. [Note- even subject themselves to medical clowns!]

Unlike most countries, Israel supports their every effort. Married and single women are allowed virtually unlimited attempts up to the age of 45, not just for baby No 1, but baby No 2 as well. From 45 to 51, women are allowed to continue treatments with donated ova. Couples pay just a percentage of the costs, which works out at about £180 a treatment. Women aged 45 and up pay more because donated ova must come from abroad.

Israel’s generous policy towards IVF has turned it into a specialist in IVF babies. There are more fertility clinics in Israel per capita than in any other country, and the highest per capita rate of IVF procedures. According to Treasury statistics, Israel provides 3,400 treatments per one million people, compared with 300 in England. Nearly 5 per cent of babies born in Israel today are test-tube babies. There are no waiting lists: once the problem has been isolated, treatment begins.

The obsession with babies is not unique to Israel. The difference is the combination of strong personal desire and a fully supportive Government. Since the state was founded in 1948, a high premium has been placed on enlarging the population. Memories of the Holocaust are still strong, and there is a very real fear among certain sectors of society that demographically Jewish Israel is being “outnumbered by Arabs”.(Though a report published today shows that the Arab birth rate in Jerusalem is actually declining, for the first time!)The Government, then, is prepared to support any measure that will bring more citizens.

At the same time, Israeli couples feel huge social pressure to have babies. Family life is very significant and children are a keystone of the Jewish religion. Rabbis of all persuasions often urge their flocks to go forth and multiply, and several religious charities offer free advice and support for couples suffering from infertility. As a result it is not uncommon to find religious women doing IVF treatments for their third, fourth and fifth children. There is also an unspoken awareness that Israel is a dangerous place to live, and that one child is just not enough.

“In Israel, a family without children is nothing,” says Professor Shlomo Mashiach, who has been a pioneer of fertility treatments for over 40 years and heads Israel’s largest IVF clinic, Assuta Medical Centre in Tel Aviv. “There is enormous pressure from grandparents, parents, neighbours and friends. Couples who do not have children soon find themselves outsiders. They feel they have no place in society and must apologise all the time for their childless state.” s

On average, about 20,000 IVF procedures are done annually in Israel, compared to about 100,000 per year in the United States, which has a population nearly 50 times the size of Israel’s.

According to some estimates, as many as 5 percent of Israeli kindergarteners today were born through IVF. Izzy Bee broke bread last Sabbath dinner with a pair of eight-year-old IVF twins and their single mum. No one batted an eye at their odd parentage.

“Be fruitful and multiply,” God proclaimed to Adam and Eve in Genesis. Later in the Bible, the issue of infertility was dealt with at length: Three of the four biblical matriarchs were infertile until God decided to “open” their wombs.

Israel has taken the biblical injunction to reproduce very seriously.

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