In a recent teshuva posted online, Rav Yuval Sherlo, the Rosh Yeshiva of the Yeshivat Hesder in Petach Tikva, deals with a question painfully posed by a 36-year old unmarried woman. In her query, the woman lays out her pain over not having found a husband despite 15 years of trying, and her realization that her biological clock is ticking and her chance to conceive a child is quickly slipping away. As such, she asks point-blank what avenue is available to her to be able to bring a child into the world.
Rav Sherlo begins his answer by emphasizing the stress that halacha and Jewish tradition place on the family unit and on having a child within the context of marriage. That being said, he notes two schools of thought regarding a woman who has not had success with creating such a unit. One school of thought obligates the woman to subjugate her personal desire for a child to the more global and universal requirement to do so within the context of marriage. On the other hand, there are those who think that if a woman has exhausted all options in this realm and still has been unsuccessful, that perhaps we can look to alternative methods of helping such a woman bear a child, inasmuch as a woman who does not have children is lacking something crucial in her life (as seen by Rachel Imeinu's plea to Yaakov to have a child with her).
Rav Sherlo himself favors this second view and thus he proceeds to investigate the different options that are available. He lists three ways in which a woman could conceive a child - through relations with a man (obviously in this case either without marriage or through a sham marriage that would be done only to validate the conception), through artificial insemination, or through in vitro fertilization. Rav Sherlo weighs the pros and cons of each approach, and concludes that artificial insemination would be most preferable.
Once that question is decided, the issue becomes who should be used as a donor. Ideally, the woman should try to find a known Jewish donor, and make a contractual agreement in terms of any future responsibilities. Knowing the donor will obviously be helpful in terms of yichus issues. If that option is not available and the donor will be anonymous, then Rav Sherlo suggests using a non-Jewish donor so as to avoid the possibility that the child will be a shtuki and thus disqualified from marrying another Jew.
In a follow-up and much lengthier part to this teshuva, Rav Sherlo defends his position from numerous criticisms that he received online. He begins by rebuffing those who attacked him as an enemy of the Jewish family, noting both his opening to his teshuva as well as his involvement in organizations that work to strengthen Jewish families. He further rejects those who object on the grounds of the welfare of the child that will be born, noting that there are plenty of children raised by one parent who turn out fine, and many raised by two parents who have troublesome home situations. He also rejects the notion that the woman involved is only in this for her own ego. To that last point, Rav Sherlo notes that the questioner had clearly exhausted her options and that accusations of egomania are insensitive to the highest degree.
At the end of the day, Rav Sherlo sees his ruling and his publicizing of it as a necessary response to not only the desperate case of one woman, but also to the perception that halacha is not responsive to the needs of individuals. He notes that there are certainly cases where halacha's limitations prevent us from solving certain problems - but that only makes it more important to make it known when halacha is capable of relieving someone's pain.
(Thank you to Dr. Scott Chudnoff for bringing this teshuva to my attention)