Doing ultrasounds/sonograms during pregnancy

Doing ultrasounds/sonograms during pregnancy:[1]

There is no Halachic impediment that exists against performing an ultrasound and having a sonogram taken. Nonetheless, doing so at times broaches the subject of Jewish ethics, as well as poses a possible health concern, due to exposure to the waves. Ultrasounds, or the resultant sonograms, are done during pregnancy for various reasons, including: 1) Routine checkup on the health of the child and to monitor the size and growth of the child; 2) To monitor the health of the birthing mother. 3) To determine the gender of the child; 4) To determine the due date.

The medical concerns involved in ultrasounds-Not to perform unnecessarily: An ultrasound transmits high-frequency sound waves through the uterus that bounce off the baby. While there is no current medical evidence which supports the idea that ultrasounds can have a negative effect on the health of the child, nonetheless, it is advised to avoid doing them unnecessarily. This was the Rebbe’s philosophy and the advice that he gave others.[2] This is likewise the advice given by the ACOG [American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists] “Currently, there is no reliable evidence that ultrasound is harmful to a developing fetus. No links have been found between ultrasound and birth defects, childhood cancer, or developmental problems later in life. However, it is possible that effects could be identified in the future. For this reason, it is recommended that ultrasound exams be performed only for medical reasons by qualified health care providers. Accordingly, women should avoid doing ultrasounds simply for the fun of it, to enjoy viewing the baby. An additional reason for avoiding ultrasounds is that at times the ultrasound produces sonograms which are falsely read by the Doctor or technician, and cause the parents unnecessary worry or fear of an impending medical issue, which is later proven to be non-existent.

For routine checkup: Medical practitioners offer routine ultrasound checkups to verify the general health and size of the child, as well as the condition of the mother for giving birth. This is usually done during the second trimester, between weeks 18-23.[3] In general, the Rebbe is quoted to have been against routine ultrasound checkups, even if it is done to negate any medical issues, so long as there is no reason to suspect that those issues exist.[4] According to Rabbi Groner, the Rebbe’s secretary, the Rebbe only agreed to the performance of an ultrasound if it was medically necessary and specific action can be taken as a result. Likewise, the Rebbe made the matter contingent on confirmation of a second medical opinion that in truth the ultrasound is necessary. This is due to the possible medical consequences that the waves can have on the unborn child. In addition, ultrasounds at times produce sonograms which are falsely read by the Doctor or technician, and cause the parents unnecessary worry or fear of an impending medical issue, which is later proven to be non-existent. On the other hand, regarding the routine checkup which is customarily performed in the second trimester [between weeks 18-23] the Rebbe is quoted to have responded that if a woman desires it to be done, then she may do so.[5]

Due to actual medical concern: When an ultrasound is advised by a medical practitioner for the sake of checking the health of the mother or child due to an active medical issue, then the medical advice is to be followed. The Rebbe did not negate having in ultrasound performed under these circumstances, and on the contrary encouraged it.[6]

To verify irreversible defects for purposes of abortion:[7] It is common for medical practitioners to perform an ultrasound for the sake of discovering if there are any birth defects in the child which are irreversible, and thus advise the mother of the option to perform an abortion. According to most Poskim, abortions may only be performed if the pregnancy poses a threat to the mother’s life, and hence one is not to perform such checks without first discussing the matter with a Rav.

To verify the gender of the fetus: There is no Halachic issue involved with performing ultrasounds for the sake of discovering the gender of the child, although this certainly would fall under the unnecessary ultrasounds which are discouraged from a medical perspective. In addition, some[8] sources suggest that one is to leave the gender of the child unknown.

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[1] See Nishmas Avraham p. 160

[2] Heard from Rabbi Leibal Groner, printed in “Healthy in Body Mind and Spirit” Vol. 2; Hiskashrus

[3] See Nishmas Avraham p. 160 that this is usually done in the first trimester and again in the third trimester.

[4] Heard from Rabbi Leibal Groner, printed in “Healthy in Body Mind and Spirit” Vol. 2; Hiskashrus

[5] Quoted in article of Rabbi Ginzberg in Hiskashrus

[6] Recorded in Hiskashrus, by Rav Ginzberg, based on information received from Rabbi Groner

[7] Nishmas Avraham ibid

[8] Midrash Bereishis Raba 65:12 and Yifei Toar there; Koheles Raba 11:5, unlike Pesachim 54b; Nishmas Avraham Y.D. 189:3; Torat Hayoledet 57:1 footnote 2

 

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