, Volume 13, Issue 2, pp 323–348 | Cite as

The Golden Helix: Origins, ethnicity and preconception genetic screening in Israel

  • Anna C. ZielinskaEmail author
  • Ilana Löwy
Original Article


The unique Israeli nation-wide programme of voluntary, free-of-charge programme of “population genetic screening for reproductive purposes” screens for “frequent and severe” genetic diseases. It is grounded in the observation that specific groups in Israeli population carry “founder mutations”: changes in DNA appearing with a high frequency in a given population. The Israeli enthusiasm for genetic testing and screening was linked with the Zionist ideology, traditional Jewish valorization of the family, a shared understanding of difficulties of life in Israel, fear of disastrous consequences of a pregnancy and, for some, also a lingering influence of eugenic ideas. This article proposes a somewhat different view. It argues that the development of state-sponsored genetic screening in Israel was to an important extent a result of a partly contingent encounter between a national ideology, a traditional Jewish respect for science – or for some the absence of a critical view of science – the development of new biomedical technologies, and the multilevel professional interests of physicians and geneticists: from curiosity and a wish to help mutation carriers – Jewish and non-Jewish – to have healthy children, to financial interests in the development of genetic testing and a widespread apprehension of juridical pursuits.


genetics Israel big data medical ethics assisted reproductive technologies sionism 


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© Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.University of LorraineNancyFrance
  2. 2.CERMES3 site CNRSVillejuifFrance

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