Modern technology utilized to enable Palestinian prisoners to have children
By: Adnan Hattab
The Jerusalem Times (independent Palestinian weekly) 10 July 2003
Several Palestinians in Israeli prisons are trying to make use
of modern childbearing technologies to have children, relying on artificial
insemination, which has given many prisoners hope of becoming fathers.
Although some prisoners have approached the Israeli Court of
Justice or have hired lawyers to allow samples to be taken out of the
prison, they are wary of society's reaction to this method.
According to Sheikh Ikirma Sabri, Grand Mufti of Jerusalem and
the Palestinian territories, the Islamic Law Directorates in Gaza and Nablus
have applied to the General Islamic Law Department to inspect the matter.
The department has decided that the method does not disagree with Islamic
law. The questions, however, remain, How will society react to the matter?
Will society approve of a prisoners getting married and having children?
What effects will that have on the family and the community? and will the
fight to get samples out of the prisons replace the fight to release the
Experts in sociology and psychology should discuss the potential
effects of the proposed method on society, and humanitarian and human rights
organizations must support the prisoners in their quest to make up,
slightly, for their failure to obtain freedom for the prisoners or at least
regular meetings with their wives.
The idea was proposed by Abbas Al-Sayyed, a Hamas leader held in
an Israeli prison. According to his family, Sayyed stored semen in 1997 at a
specialized clinic. Sayyed had his first child, a girl named Mawadda, by way
of zygote implant due to health problems; he then had a boy, Abdullah,
naturally, before being arrested.
Sayyed suggested that his wife use the stored semen sample to
have a child. She refused, but after some consideration decided to oblige,
despite the potential social awkwardness that was certain to come.
Sayyed's wife said that her husband noticed that the prisoners'
biggest concern is the inability to have families. Several political leaders
and scientists were interviewed to form a clearer picture, and the majority
agreed that the method is acceptable.
Dr. Salem Abu Khaizaran, an expert in infertility and
insemination, said, "I worked in Britain before being able to fulfil my
dream of returning to Palestine and offering my services. I participated in
opening an infertility clinic in 1995, from which date we have been able to
assist in 1,000 births that utilized technology. Test-tube babies appeared
in Britain in 1979, at which time it was considered a medical breakthrough,
giving hope to thousands of women that suffered infections and other
problems. In case the problem was in the uterus, insemination was achieved
outside it, and after one or two days, when the fetus was formed, it would
be returned to the uterus to complete its cycle."
Khaizaran explained that the process was costly and exhausting,
to the patient and doctors, requiring nonstop monitoring of the woman's
hormones to establish the correct time to extract the ovum, and then another
bout of non-stop monitoring, this time of the zygote in order to extract it
from the test-tube when it is ready. In some cases, the zygote was ready on
a holiday or in the middle of the night, which meant hustling to gather the
medical crew. Therefore, scientists developed a hormone that controlled the
growth of the zygote, which was the first of several notable breakthroughs.
The second breakthrough was the invention of ultrasound scanning at the
beginning of the 1980s, which made surgery to extract the ovum unnecessary,
because ultrasound scanning enabled doctors to pinpoint the location of the
egg and pull it out using a special device. The third breakthrough involves
men, specifically those with poor sperm count or weak sperm. Up until 1992,
doctors had to use at least 100,000 sperm, but then scientists developed a
method that allows them to extract a single, potent sperm and inject it
directly into the egg. This method also proved efficient with men that
suffered sexual problems, as scientists were able to extract the single
sperm directly from the testicles. The new technologies gave couples the
choice of storing zygotes for several years until they decide to have the
As for the prisoners, Khaizaran said that as long as the couple
is legally married, the only obstacle is the prison administration. He said
the success rate in artificial insemination is 35 percent, adding that
childbearing relies first and last on the will of God. Khaizaran said that a
woman may try every two or three months.
As for accuracy in storing and using the samples, Khaizaran said
that the center is very careful when taking and when using the samples,
requesting that two witnesses besides the couple and the technician be
present to monitor the entire process. He concluded by assuring that the
clinic maintains contact and coordination with Islamic departments to
guarantee that the services it offers agree with Islamic law.
Hamas spokesman Abdul-Aziz Rantisi said, "I personally
encouraged the method when I was imprisoned. Many women have been deprived
of their husbands and must not be deprived of having children. Also, having
children is important to the psyche of the prisoners."
Rantisi sees that the Palestinians have a political obligation
to reproduce. "Unlike the west that practices family planning, we encourage
having children for political reasons."
Regarding the option of arranging regular meetings for couples,
said Rantisi, "That is possible and I encouraged that option when I was in
prison. Everybody realizes that husband and wife need each other and that
imprisonment for a long time causes great suffering for both of them. There
is no conflict between fighting to enable couples to meet and fighting to
allow artificial insemination." Rantisi assured that the method is
acceptable as long as it agrees with Islam.
The president of the Scientists of Palestine Foundation, Sheikh
Hamed Al-Betawi, said that this method of having children is new to
Palestine, made necessary by uncontrollable circumstances. He said that the
method agrees with Islam as long as it is advertised, so that friends,
relatives and neighbors are not shocked to see the women suddenly pregnant
while her husband is away.
Betawi noted that the Virgin Mary, the model of purity and
decency, was not spared the sharp tongues of evil people. He called for
applying care when conducting the process, suggesting using organizations
such as the International Red Cross to transport semen samples and also
suggesting complete documentation of the entire process. Betawi called for
continuing to fight for the release of prisoners, especially those with
Ammar Badawi, mufti of the Toulkarem District, agreed that using
modern technology to have children is acceptable in Islam as long is care is
exercised to ensure that the semen and the egg come from husband and wife
and as long as the process is advertised, especially to the family of the
wife, to avoid damage by evil-doers.
Badawi concentrated on the matter of transporting semen from men
in prison, calling for employing official institutions to conduct the
process without allowing the prison administration to interfere. He opposed
the possibility of 'distant marriage' and then having children, citing the
psychological and physical damage to the girl.
As for a woman wishing to have a child using her dead husband's
semen, Badawi opposed sternly, explaining that the marriage contract is void
when one of the parties dies.
Although having children by way of technology has gained the
approval of Islamic law and experts in the field, society may not be quite
as understanding. The matter is expected to raise controversy, and only time
will tell what the reaction will be.