Living

Is there a problem with using sperm from dead donors?

Oh, babies. What won’t we do to have them? And thanks to breakthroughs in fertility treatments more and more women are able to have children in ways never dreamed possible. But with endless possibilities come ethical concerns too. If we can do almost anything to get what we want, where do we draw the line, if at all?

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Janie Airey, Getty Images

Oh, babies. What won’t we do to have them? And thanks to breakthroughs in fertility treatments more and more people are able to have children in ways never dreamed possible. But with endless possibilities come ethical concerns too. If we can do almost anything to get what we want, where do we draw the line, if at all? 

An article on the Time.com website about posthumous sperm donation reveals how far we’ve advanced in fertility treatments. Women who’ve lost spouses are now seeking to conceive using their deceased partner’s sperm. The article mentions the case of a bereaved wife in California who successfully petitioned the court to use her husband’s sperm after he passed away due to cancer. The court granted her request because of her husband’s decision to freeze his sperm while he was alive, an act that clearly indicated his consent. 

Sometimes cases of posthumous donation are straightforward and sometimes they’re not so straightforward, however. The Time piece also presents another case that falls into the latter category. 

In Israel, two bereaved parents are asking the court to grant them the right to use their deceased son’s sperm to conceive a grandchild via surrogate. After their 27-year-old son Ohad died unexpectedly in a work accident, Mali and Dudi Ben-Yaakov extracted his sperm and now they want to use it. Their argument is that if they can legally donate their son’s organs after his death, why can’t they donate his sperm? 

The problem, as many point out, is that their son didn’t provide any evidence of consent while he was alive. He wasn’t in a committed relationship either. (Currently, the government of Israel only recognizes the right of a woman whose partner was killed to use his sperm to bear children.) 

Do the parents of the dead have a claim to their offspring’s sperm for the purposes of reproduction? If a grieving wife can demand it, why can’t a grieving mother? It’s a question fertility doctors and courts may not have anticipated, but surely this can’t be the first or the last time it’s going to be an issue. 

The case raises the possibility of yet another difficult question—one we may have to consider in the future. Could there be a time when “sperm” or “egg” is added to an organ donor’s card? Given the above scenario, it may not be such a bad idea to give the dead a voice in the matter.