Fertility meets faith


Published: 11Jun2009

Technology and tradition team up to allow more couples access to fertility treatment at the MUHC

Having children is a joy that most couples hope to experience. For some, however, that joy remains elusive because of fertility problems. “We have the technology to help most couples conceive, but to make this technology accessible to all cultures, we must deliver it within the context of their traditions and values,” says Dr. Hananel Holzer, a fertility expert at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). “Many cultural or religious groups allow couples to use In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) if certain conditions are respected and followed. It is our job to make that happen.”

For example, some Muslim patients require that only female doctors are involved in the IVF procedure. “We have also been asked to say prayers at the moment of fertilization, which we are happy to do,” says Dr. Holzer, who is a professor of medicine in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at McGill University.

The Orthodox Jewish community also has unique needs. The McGill Reproductive Centre has worked closely with Rabi Weiss, head of the Jewish Community Council of Montreal, to develop the Observation Program. This program, the first of its kind in Canada, was created specifically to allow members of the Jewish community access to state-of-the-art fertility treatments without compromising their religious and cultural standards.

“In Judaism, the Halacha requires that certain conditions are met with respect to many aspects of life,” says Dr. Holzer. “While the concept of kosher food may be familiar to many, not everyone realizes that Jewish laws also set out clear guidelines which cover reproduction.” Many steps were taken to meet the needs of this particular community. “Special observers were trained to understand religious laws as they relate to assisted reproduction,” says Dr. Holzer. “Special freezing tanks for the eggs and incubators to house the embryos were also purchased by the Jewish community.”

Dr Holzer has vast experience working closely with the orthodox and ultra orthodox community in Israel, were he was deputy director of the IVF department at Hadassah Hospital. “When I arrived in Montreal it was only natural to establish the same service here with Rabbi Weiss who is an astonishing scholar,” he said.

Dr Seang Lin Tan, Director of the McGill Reproductive Centre and Obstetrician and Gynecologist-in-Chief of the MUHC, praised Dr. Holzer’s initiative. “This program is a wonderful example of collaboration between the MUHC and our community for the benefit of patients,” he said. “By respecting religious laws and adapting to cultural sensitivities we have allowed more people to experience the joys of parenthood.”

This news follows a recent provincial government decision by the Quebec government to fund fertility treatment. This decision makes the option of using reproductive technology to start a family more widely available. To find out more about the McGill Reproductive Centre, the Observation Program, and the government’s plan to fund fertility treatment visit: www.mcgillivf.com


The McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) is a comprehensive academic health institution with an international reputation for excellence in clinical programs, research and teaching. Its partner hospitals are the Montreal Children's Hospital, the Montreal General Hospital, the Royal Victoria Hospital, the Montreal Neurological Hospital, the Montreal Chest Institute and the Lachine Hospital. The goal of the MUHC is to provide patient care based on the most advanced knowledge in the health care field, and to contribute to the development of new knowledge. www.muhc.ca.


For more information please contact:

Ian Popple
Communications Coordinator
MUHC Public Relations and Communications

(514) 843-1560ian.popple [at] muhc.mcgill.ca" target="_blank">
ian.popple [at] muhc.mcgill.ca

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