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Breast Milk Bank Project Causes Religious And Feasibility Concerns In Turkey

03.03.2013 14:29

breast milk bank project which is currently on the country's agenda has raised concerns in terms of religion and feasibility among experts, especially theologists.

breast milk bank project which is currently on the country's agenda has raised concerns in terms of religion and feasibility among experts, especially theologists.

Health Minister Mehmet Müezzinoğlu stated on Feb. 24 that the ministry would carry out a new project called a breast milk bank. According to the project, mothers who unable to breastfeed their babies will be able to obtain breast milk from some healthcare organizations. Volunteers will be able to go to hospitals or healthcare centers to donate their milk after officials conduct some necessary tests. After the tests, those who do not smoke, drink alcohol and do not have contagious diseases such as tuberculosis, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C or HIV will be eligible to donate their milk. The project, which will be put into effect on March 8, will prioritize premature babies whose immune systems are weaker compared to those born via normal deliveries.

This project however has resulted in confusion and criticism among theologists. Professor Saffet Köse from Selçuk University told Sunday's Zaman that some problems may occur with the milk bank project in terms of Islamic law. According to Islamic principles, individuals who are breastfed from the same woman cannot marry each other or the woman as they are regarded as milk siblings. "There aren't any differences between biological siblings and milk siblings in our religion which prohibits marriages between such siblings and regards it as 'haram,' or forbidden by religion. I think it is inevitable that a mistake might happen while conducting this project which can result in marriages between milk siblings," said Köse.

The issue of milk banks was also discussed by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). The OIC declared that there might be some negative aspects to breast milk banks since it is very hard to manage such projects. The OIC suggested finding a wet nurse for a specific baby instead of establishing milk banks.

Another theologist, Faruk Beşer, told Sunday's Zaman that he finds the new project incompatible with Islam. "Theoretically the project of a breast milk bank is a good one to put an end to infant deaths. But instead of a breast milk bank project, there could be a wet nurse project. The project which the government is carrying out is too complex to be put into effect without making any mistakes or misunderstandings. All of the officials who are involved in this project may not place the necessary importance on details which might cause a haram marriage between the babies in the future," Beşer added.

The religious sensitivities of the people who work at such milk banks are also crucial in carrying out the project properly. Professor Ahmet Yaman from Akdeniz University said that there might be some mistakes and misunderstandings in the project since the people who work in a breast milk bank may not have the level of religious sensitivity as well as attention that is required for their jobs.

There is also a spiritual dimension to breast milk and some experts say that the behaviors of a woman can affect a baby through her milk. Professor Mehmet Zeki Aydın from Marmara University told Sunday's Zaman that there is also a spiritual dimension to a breast milk bank. "Breast milk is not only food for babies' development but also it is the source of love, attention and affection of the mother through her milk to her baby. If a woman donating milk does not consume halal food -- food prepared in accordance with Islamic teachings -- this can affect the baby as well as its moral judgments," said Aydın.

On the other hand, the project has been welcomed by doctors. Nurullah Okumuş from the Dr. Sami Ulus Obstetrics and Children's Health and Diseases Hospital told Sunday's Zaman that they have been experiencing some problems due to a lack of breast milk, especially for premature babies, and with the start of the project they will not have to give infant formulas to babies, which cannot take the place of breast milk. "The storage of breast milk in a healthy way is not that difficult. Breast milk can be stored in special freezers for six months. For the stronger immune systems of babies we support the breast milk banks," said Okumuş.

Responding to concerns and questions raised by the public since the announcement of the project, Minister Müezzinoğlu gave further details on Feb. 26 at a press conference. The minister stated that they will take some precautions to deal with people's concerns, suspicions and questions. "Without the permission of the parents, no baby will be given breast milk. We will make sure that a wet nurse will only give milk to a one gender so as to prevent the possibility that babies who received milk from the same mother could one day marry without knowing. Moreover, we plan to record which babies receive milk from which wet nurse. We will be very careful in recording data about whose milk the babies receive in the banks," said Müezzinoğlu.

The Ministry of Health has given some details of the project to Sunday's Zaman. Data released by the ministry show that there will not be any limitations on the amount of milk supplied by mothers. They will be able to donate as much milk as they wish since there is no problem in storing the milk. When asked about the concerns about recording breast milk information in a baby's file, the ministry stated that the recording process will be carefully carried out by the General Directorate of Census and Citizenship on an electronic registration system. In terms of the legal procedures of the project, the ministry said that a new article should be added to the Citizenship Law for the strict control of the project. "With the milk registration implementation, all the information about the wet nurse will be give to the baby's parents. Doctors will decide on how many months a baby will be supplied with breast milk and which babies really need it," the ministry added.

Breastfeeding is the ideal way of providing infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. A number of health organizations -- including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), an organization of 53,000 primary care pediatricians, pediatric medical sub-specialists and pediatric surgical specialists -- recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and then breastfeeding up to two years or more (WHO) or at least one year of breastfeeding in total (AAP). (Cihan/Sunday's Zaman)

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