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Leading Cause of Infertility Among Ashkenazic Jews Disclosed

May 2, 1985
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A leading Talmudic scholar who is an authority on medical ethics has disclosed an appeal to his colleagues to make known the recent disclosure of a leading cause of infertility apparently affecting only Ashkenazic Jews “which can be totally reversed by means of pharmaceutical treatment.”

Rabbi J. David Bleich, a faculty member of both Yeshiva University and its Cardozo Law School, made the disclosure and his appeal in a letter to Rabbi Benjamin Walfish, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Council of America, a major organization of Orthodox rabbis.

Bleich sent Walfish an abstract of an article which he wrote would appear in the 1985 annual issue of “The American Journal of Human Genetics,” adding in his covering letter to Walfish that the article was “the product of research which has identified a cause of infertility which appears to be present only in Ashkenazic Jews.”

Bleich added: “More significantly, since the cause has been identified as a steroid insufficiency, the condition can be totally reversed by means of pharmaceutical treatment.”

The abstract was of an article describing the research of five experts in the field from the United States, Italy and Yugoslavia. One of them was Dr. Maria New, chief of Pediatric Endocrinology at New York Hospital and chairperson of the Department of Pediatrics at Cornell University at the Cornell University Medical School.

The abstract was entitled “Discovery of a New Genetic Disease in Ashkenazic Jews,” which the researchers agreed was more widespread than Tay-Sachs Disease. The searchers reported “extraordinarily high frequency among Ashkenazic Jews of a genetically transmitted hormonal disease called nonclassical adrenal hyperplatas. This condition, involving an enzyme deficiency, results in chronically elevated androgenic (male) hormone levels and consequent impairment of fertility in both males and females.”

The researchers reported that their preliminary studies indicated that “as many as one in every 30 individuals of Ashkenazi Jewish descent may be affected” with the disease and that “one of every three is a carrier of the trait.” They said the data was in “stark and dramatic contrast to Tay-Sachs Disease, which up until this time was thought to be the most common Jewish genetic disease.”

Declaring that the discovery “is of the utmost significance for our community,” Rabbi Bleich wrote that one of the authors of the report “and her associates are interested in reaching as many people who can benefit from this treatment as soon as possible.”

Indicating the severity of the problem, Bleich said “a highly significant percentage of infertile Jewish couples cannot have children because they suffer from this condition. Until recently, the true nature of their problem was unknown to medical science. There now exists a relatively simple blood test which can be used to diagnose this type of infertility” and infertility “attributable to this genetic deficiency is entirely curable by means of medication.”

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