Friday, August 6, 2010

The Dor Yeshorim Organisation

Sat at home over the holidays, watching the television as usual, I came across a documentary about the Jewish Community in New York. Its probably common knowledge, but I personally wasn't aware of a system of genetic testing which is carried out on young Jews of high school age. These tests are administered by the Dor Yeshorim Organisation which was set up by Rabbi Josef Ekstein in the 1980s after he lost four of his children to Tay-Sachs disease (a genetic disorder caused when two recessive genes come together, one from each parent) and has expanded to cover other areas, including Israel.

Recessive genetic disorders are very prevalent in the New York Jewish comunity as it is a relatively small population with a very strong tendancy for intermarriage (over many generations). A simple (but possibly controversial) method for avoiding these problems is for prospective couples to have their test results checked for compatibility before committing to marriage.

Opponents compare the basic premise to that of eugenics (and with such a claim comes an inevitable comparison to the ideas of the Nazis). Certainly if you are a strong believer in the idea of "true love", then it is a bit off-putting. Furthermore, at what point should you stop? There will always be some deleterious genes in any genetic profile. You might argue, however, that it's natural to want to know as much as possible about your partner before you marry, and why shouldn't this involve delving into their genetic identity?

My initial response was to feel a bit uneasy about the whole premise. However, after thinking about it for a while, I can see a lot of value in the idea that a couple should be confident that they have done all they can to ensure they are able to have healthy children. Is it acceptable for a couple to decide that they shouldn't marry in order to prevent avoidable suffering and death in the next generation? Of course, if you feel strongly that it is wrong for your religion to dictate who you should fall in love with, then the ideas of Dor Yeshorim will be completely alien to you in any case. Certainly a good subject for a TOK presentation I think, and it is a good example of a subject in which religion and science meet.