IVF After Death; Post-mortem Sperm Retrieval
"Across all cultures and religions, the idea of afterlife has been contemplated since the beginning of time.
While there are differing beliefs about what happens to the soul or spirit of a person after death, the physical body remains here on Earth. Many times, people are able to choose exactly how they want their body to be treated after they are gone. Some people decide to donate their bodies to science for research, and some donate their healthy organs to patients in need of organ transplants.
While these thoughts may be morbid in a sense, death is the only event we can be sure of in life, and these things are necessary to discuss.
One particular community has recently gotten involved in the business of afterlife, and it’s not at all what you’d expect.
Infertility specialists, those responsible for helping to create children for thousands of people every year, have started to debate the concept of conceiving after death.
But with these new advancements in infertility treatments, come more responsibility and a lot of debate about the ethical aspects of this controversial concept.
While it is acceptable for wives, girlfriends, fiancés and parents to use a man’s sperm with their prior consent, the situation gets a little more complicated when it involves an unexpected death.
Post-mortem sperm retrieval, as it is officially known, was attempted for the first time in 1980 after a man was left brain dead following a car accident.
The procedure is just like sperm retrieval, (used in infertility treatments involving male infertility factors) where the sperm is surgically removed and then frozen. Then, if she chooses, the partner of the deceased can use the preserved sperm to conceive a child using infertility treatments such as IVF with ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) microinjection.
The first successful pregnancy and birth using this infertility method happened in 1999.
Today thousands of people are requesting this procedure as a way to carry on the life of their lost ones through children; infertility specialists have the science part down and are able to help patients achieve successful pregnancies, but post-mortem sperm retrieval is a whole lot more than just science.
For some people, considering the creation of life after death is absolutely necessary. Before deploying on a possibly life-threatening mission, many soldiers choose to freeze their sperm using cryopreservation. This way, their wives at home are able to have a baby using in-vitro fertilization (IVF), even in the event of their husband’s death. Cancer patients are also encouraged to save their sperm and eggs, just in case they want to have children in the future.
So what happens when the person with cancer dies? One case in California involved a cancer patient who froze his sperm before chemotherapy and radiation, with the full intent of having a child with his wife. After his death, the patient’s wife had a hard time accessing her husband’s sperm. Although she is now pregnant, this issue continues to haunt her.
Another story in Israel revolves around a deceased man’s parents. Although the 27-year-old man was single in every sense of the word, after his untimely death, his parents wanted a grandchild using his sperm and a surrogate mother. They had his sperm extracted, but they are still waiting for permission from the Israeli government.
In-vitro fertilization (IVF) in Israel is already a widely accepted medical procedure. According to Time Magazine, “Israel is already IVF-crazy; health insurance pays for as many IVF cycles as needed to achieve the birth of up to two babies. In 2003, it codified guidelines surrounding posthumous reproduction that allow a spouse or partner to use a dead man’s sperm unless he has specified that was unacceptable.”
But even with the openness of the Israeli government to infertility treatments, these wannabe grandparents have caused quite a stir.
Theresa Erickson, attorney for the pregnant California women said the situation in Israel is “much less straightforward”. She told Time Magazine, “Creating a grandchild is much different than creating a child. Imagine what the child will think: My dad’s dead and he never even knew I existed. It’s a pretty sticky ethical and moral dilemma.”
The Israeli couple feels differently. They expressed their opinion to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “If we were entitled to donate the organs of our son, why are we not entitled to make use of his sperm in order to bring offspring into the world?”
While both points are valid, it’s hard to predict where society will stand on this tough issue over the next few years. With the popularity of infertility (IVF) treatments on the rise, this topic had to come up for discussion eventually. As for now, we’ll have to wait and see how governments, citizens and medical professionals react to all aspects related to creating life after death through IVF.
To learn more about infertility (IVF) treatments, find an infertility specialist in your area.
Rubinstein E.. Postmortem sperm retrieval and its use. Israel Attorney General Guidelines. 2003; 2202: 1–13
Posthumous sperm retrieval: analysis of time interval to harvest sperm
THE BIOLOGICAL WILL™, prepared by Adv. Irit Rosenblum
Israeli attorney, Irit Rosenblum, Founder and Head of the "New Family" organization, is devoted to protecting the rights of those whom new technologies and changing social mores have enabled the creation of new forms of family life. She has devised and has been putting into use a new legal instrument, the "Biological Will", which she describes in the following document.
Now, children can be conceived after the death of one or even both parents through The Biological Will™, a legal testament that I developed that documents the intended use or disposal of any individual's sperm, ova or embryos in case of death, incapacitation or infertility. It is a solution to the questions of gamete and embryo ownership, donor consent, legal parentage, and inheritance rights of posthumously-conceived children.
Israel has no law on posthumous reproduction. The legal ability to use the sperm of the dead was forged through my 12 year confrontation with the legal system. When I set out to carry out the Biological Will™ in 2002, there was no legal procedure. The Attorney General opposed. The legal debate lasted until today; even though I won all the court cases in which I appeared..
The legal system gradually began to adopt my position that genetic materials are property that can be willed and inherited and can be used to posthumously conceive children if it was the donor’s will. The two more court cases I had the privilege to represent in 2009 and in 2011 made waves in the legal system, until the AG reversed the State’s position in 2013. AG Yehuda Weinstein, for the first time in 12 years of struggle on behalf of parents’ of the deceased, announced that he is willing to accept my position which respects parents' court standing.
I was privileged to litigate numerous groundbreaking cases in Israel, in which the deceased’s parents won the right to carry out their son’s Biological Will™ by choosing a single woman to conceive with their son’s sperm, and raise the child as her own. The world’s first case of posthumous reproduction with a partner unknown to the donor is Keivan Cohen in Israel. In 2007, Cohen’s parents won the right to designate a woman to conceive with the sperm that was extracted after his death in 2002. In November 2012, a single woman gave birth to his daughter, twelve years after his death. The Cohen case paved the way for a string of legal precedents in Israel. In 2009, a family court approved the verbal Biological Will™ of Idan Snir, and empowered his parents to transfer his sperm to a single woman who wished to raise a child from a known sperm donor. In 2011, an Israeli court approved a written Biological Will™ in which a young Israeli empowered his parents to choose a single woman who wished to conceive with his sperm. These cases are significant because the Israeli legal system affirmed the young men’s right to father children after death independent of a female partner. In 2009 I appeared in the world’s only case of posthumous maternity. In 2011, a global precedent was set when the world’s first baby born by Biological Will™ was born to a surrogate mother, who gestated the embryo created by the father and the late mother. In November 2013 the event iconic was the birth of the soldier’s daughter 11 years after his death, leaving his Biological Will.