Having a child with a dead man is already possible. Although its legality (or morality) is not clear, Ellidy Pullin welcomed a baby into the world three days ago . It was not a normal delivery. The strange thing about it was that her husband (and father of that girl) had died 15 months before. The baby was conceived by IVF using sperm that had been recovered from the man immediately after his death. A procedure that is legal in some places under certain conditions.
Even so, and despite having caused an outpouring of love in the United States, it also raises an ethical debate about how someone can continue to give life after death and on existing legislation.
The story . Australian Olympian Alex “Chumpy” Pullin and his wife Ellidy had been trying to have a baby before her death in July 2020. It is believed that he died from a faint while holding his breath underwater while scuba diving. Both were prepared to undergo IVF and, months ago, she posted a photo of her pregnancy on Instagram. “IVF was in our cards, but it wasn’t something I ever imagined I’d tackle on my own.”
Ellidy turned to sperm from her husband , who had to “rush” to collect after the accident. That involved many signatures of legal and court documents with the athlete’s parents, as well as different legal issues with forensics, lawyers and the doctor. “They asked me, ‘What are you going to do when I ask you about your dad?’ In December, Ellidy underwent an embryo transfer, but lost it at seven weeks. The following transfer did work.
The procedure . Our bodies, it seems, die in parts and little by little. Scientific literature advises physicians to extract and freeze a sperm sample within the 24 to 36 hours after death, but some cases show that, under the right conditions, viable sperm can survive well beyond this deadline. And they don’t have to be fast and perfect, just be alive. All it takes is a single sperm injected into an egg.
But first someone has to get it back. There are several ways in which sperm can be collected , including needle removal. One method is to insert a needle into the testicle and remove some sperm. Another is to surgically remove the testicle or epididymis and separate the sperm from the tissue. Another option is rectal tube ejaculation, also known as electroejaculation.
An ethical practice? All this in turn leads us to ask ourselves the question of whether this practice is moral and ethical. First, some would argue that without the father’s permission, he would be “corrupting” his line of succession. Its history and memory. And also the need for there to be regulation in this regard, as in organ donation, that the deceased have to leave their wills in writing. How do physicians and review boards weigh decisions about post-mortem sperm retrieval? “Like most issues related to reproductive ethics, their main concerns are to respect the wishes and consent of the patient”, explained Elizabeth Yuko, bioethicist, in this BBC report .
“In this case, because the patient has died, this complicates it a bit, but we also want to respect the well-being of the future son. In many cases you are guessing what the wishes of the deceased are. ” When a man has made his wishes clear, the rights of the dead almost always supersede the rights of the living.
Public opinion . One place where men are asked about the fate of their sperm after death is in a sperm bank. A group of researchers explored these data. About 375 men diagnosed with cancer or infertility who stored sperm in a Texas bank, almost the . In a US telephone survey, people were asked if they would like their spouse to be able to use their sperm (or eggs) after their death to have a child: the 70% of men in 18 to 44 years said yes.
During the last four decades, attitudes towards the issue seem to have changed . An article from the British Medical Journal by 1998 who discussed the ethics of sperm retrieval said: “Doctors have unconsciously sanctioned the use of dead men’s bodies for the satisfaction of women.” The article concluded that physicians “must find the courage to say no to assaulting vulnerable brain-dead patients.”
What does the law say? The legislation on posthumous donation of sperm varies by country and state . In Queensland, the Australian state of Ellidy, it is allowed when a “designated official” is satisfied that the deceased would not object and when the immediate family consents. In Germany, Sweden, France, Canada it is not legal. In the UK, it is not allowed unless the man has given his prior written consent. In Israel, implicit consent is sufficient: a deceased man need not have left a written document. And in the USA There is no national legislation in this regard, and it only depends on the states and the institutions. In fact, it only considers such requests from the deceased’s wife and requires “convincing evidence” that the man intended to have children with her.
The consent of the available relative is also important . The procedure must also occur within 24 hours after death and family should be able to pay for freezing and storage. Sperm are special. Several recent court rulings have given sperm a higher legal status than blood, bone marrow, or organs. In line with this point of view are positions such as that of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine , which argued on 2013 that, “in the absence of a written directive, it is reasonable to conclude that physicians are not required to comply with any of the requests of a surviving spouse or partner.”
The Spanish case. On 2016, France authorized the insemination of a Spanish woman with the semen of her dead husband . The case was totally “exceptional”, according to the French Council of State. In France, post-mortem insemination is prohibited, while in Spain it can be carried out within a year after death. Nicola Turri had her sperm frozen in 2013 before cancer treatment that could render you sterile. Despite overcoming the disease, two years later he was diagnosed with leukemia and died an hour before signing his consent for assisted reproduction before a notary.
His sperm was kept in Paris. The woman’s claim was initially dismissed, but appealed until she reached the Council of State, where she won the trial . The sentence, of course, did not establish jurisprudence, and therefore “does not invalidate the prohibition of post-mortem insemination in force in France,” said the lawyer. In France, several women have received the refusal of the Administration when requesting to be inseminated with sperm from their deceased partners.
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