Thesis

Iranian Jews in the United States : A study of personal reproductive choices and perceived causes of disabilities

Iranian Jews constitute a growing minority in metropolitan cities around the United States. They are part of a close-knit community, with strong family and cultural values. Prevailing negative attitudes in the Iranian Jewish society towards disease and disability often cause the isolation and rejection of individuals with impairments. Having a child with a genetic disorder or a birth defect is to be avoided at any cost, since it may bring shame upon the entire family. There is limited information available in the field of genetic counseling about the Iranian Jewish community. Since prenatal choices reflect a person's cultural and social understanding of birth defects and genetic disorders, increased awareness of the community's values and characteristics is valuable in providing culturally sensitive genetic counseling services. The purpose of the study was to explore factors that play a major role in prenatal choices and that influence perceived causes of disabilities among Iranian Jews living in the United States. I hypothesized that a direct correlation exists between (a) acculturation, (b) education, (c) religious affiliation, and personal reproductive choices and perceived causes of disabilities in this population. A four-part questionnaire was designed based on self-written questions, and a pretested and validated instrument. The questionnaire assessed demographics, beliefs about causes of birth defects and genetic disorders, personal reproductive choices, and acculturation. The overall participation rate was 55%. Participants were 74 male and female Iranian Jews living in the greater Los Angeles area. Data were analyzed separately for male and female participants. The majority of participants were Conservative Jews, single, educated, and childless. The survey data showed low degree of acculturation, with the vast majority identifying themselves as either bicultural or Iranian. Among female and male participants, the study showed a strong correlation between (a) acculturation, (b) education, (c) religious affiliation, and personal reproductive choices. Among females only, the study also showed a strong correlation between these factors (acculturation, education, and religious affiliation) and perceived causes of disabilities. The correlation analysis showed that acculturation, education, and religious affiliation play roles in influencing prenatal decision-making. Therefore, it is important to explore these issues in the genetic counseling session, and consider their influence on the client's prenatal choices.

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