All children inevitably ask where they come from. One potential mother is going to have a harder job than most.

I was conceived HOW!?

“Well darling, your father committed suicide and I had to get a court order to retrieve his sperm within twenty four hours of his death. Then I had to get another court order to use the sperm. And that’s how you were born.”

Last week one woman’s bid to access her dead husband’s sperm was granted by Supreme Court Justice James Edelman, paving the way to allow West Australian women to access their dead husbands’ sperm without a court order.

The couple had been trying to conceive for 2 years, and had recently resorted to IVF. Having a history of depression, the man took his life early this year.

This woman can access her husband’s sperm but she can’t use it. Due to WA legislation, a further court order will need to be granted if she wants to conceive a child.

When I first heard the news, I was supportive of the woman and thought “why not?”

In marriage you are together for richer and poorer, in good times and bad, with low sperm counts and high.

But the physical and mental implications for the mother, and the child if she decides to have this baby, need serious consideration.

Posthumous sperm retrieval (PSR) is a relatively new medical phenomenon. The first case of PSR was in the 1980s, when a 30-year-old man died in a motor vehicle accident and his family wanted to preserve his sperm.

The first successful conception of a baby from a cadaver was in 1998, the baby was born successfully the following year.

PSR is a procedure rarely performed and this means evidence is lacking. Previous studies in 2005, 2006 and 2009 have shown that assisted conception is linked to an increased risk of birth defects.

In a study conducted in South Australia in 2012, natural pregnancies were associated with a 5.8 per cent chance of a birth defect whereas assisted pregnancies were associated with an 8.3 per cent chance. And with all of these pregnancies, the fathers were alive.

That is not to say that IVF babies don’t go on to have full and healthy lives.

If we weren’t already on the vanguard of a Brave New World, we are certainly close to it, with scientists essentially creating life from death.

Governments around the world have responded to PRS differently, with Germany, Sweden, Canada and the state of Victoria in Australia legislating against posthumous assisted reproduction. Western Australia has regulations which forbid the posthumous use of gametes.

In the UK, you’re not allowed to legally store posthumous sperm without the man’s prior written consent.

In France, the entire act of posthumous insemination is forbidden.

But beyond medical statistics and government legislation, this issue ultimately hinges on whether PSR is ethically justifiable.

I’m uncertain about the ethics of retrieving sperm from men who are dead or in a vegetative state, and who have not given their prior consent. I worry for the quality of life of the children who are conceived in this way.

Hypothetically, if a child conceived using posthumous sperm was born and developed disabilities, does that child then have right to seek compensation from the government which allowed the insemination to take place?

These ethical riddles can only really be answered by women who choose to take this path. As a society, we need to implement safeguards to ensure that these women make well-informed decisions which are fair to the child.

Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEDT.

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48 comments

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    • Colin says:

      09:09am | 18/01/13

      “The couple had been trying to conceive for 2 years, and had recently resorted to IVF. Having a history of depression, the man took his life early this year.”

      Having a “...history of depression…” may well indicate genetically-inherited trait for depression…Perhaps the woman should consider this before she goes through all the trouble of bringing yet another) life into the world who may - if the probability exists - simply decide to ‘End it all” as his/her father did, thereby having gone to one hell of a lot of trouble for nought..?

    • Jaqui says:

      10:32am | 18/01/13

      I have to admit, this was the first thing that sprang to mind also, if anything, the law should protect the unborn child from the genetic defect of the debilitating illness that took its potential father.

    • Philosopher says:

      10:57am | 18/01/13

      yes I believe the ‘Melancholic’ codon is located at RSN1044JK, right next to the breast cancer gene BRCA1.

    • Meph says:

      11:20am | 18/01/13

      “the law should”

      These three small words are fraught with danger.

    • Nosferatu says:

      12:41pm | 18/01/13

      @ Colin - referring back to comments you were making yesterday, why would she make herself pregnant, thus becoming a victim. You made it quite clear yesterday that you consider pregnant women to be victims, of what you didn’t say, but you said it.

    • Philosopher says:

      09:18am | 18/01/13

      At least the men would die happy, doing what they love best in their final moments.

    • Rose says:

      11:42am | 18/01/13

      Posthumous…he’s already dead!!

    • Philosopher says:

      12:18pm | 18/01/13

      Rose, you’d be surprised how tenacious men can be.

    • andrew says:

      09:26am | 18/01/13

      Personally I’d rather my wife look for a new partner and have kids with him than try to get pregnant from my sperm after my death, as she’d have a better chance of finding another partner as a widow than as a widow who is also a single mother.

    • Philosopher says:

      10:01am | 18/01/13

      new husbands often start the relationship by eating the offspring of previous matings. At least that’s what I learned watching Discovery Channel. So your position is well-founded sir.

    • Philosopher says:

      09:26am | 18/01/13

      ‘This woman can access her husband’s sperm but she can’t use it.’ Hmm, makes for some romantic images indeed. In medieval times, the testicles of hanged men were prized for their potency. If one didn’t know any better, one could almost say we haven’t progressed all that far…

    • iMitchy says:

      11:21am | 18/01/13

      Homunculus….

    • andrew says:

      10:01am | 18/01/13

      What is the law around men harvesting the eggs of their deceased partner?

    • Colin says:

      10:40am | 18/01/13

      @ andrew

      I can only assume that you DON’T mean as she lays dead on the floor..?

    • Philosopher says:

      11:08am | 18/01/13

      I can imagine many, many women would yearn to have the egg of their new husband’s deceased lover implanted in their fallopian tubes. If I recall, Marcia from the Brady Bunch once discussed this tantalising possibility with Alice the housekeeper.

    • andrew says:

      11:21am | 18/01/13

      thanks Sanity.  I agree it’s hard to visualise a scenario where this would occur under current circumstances. When scientists create an artificial womb ( I’m sure it will happen ) such a situation could more realistically occur -  Surely there has to be one or two men out there that REALLY want kids?? (cue crickets chirping)

    • Philosopher says:

      11:31am | 18/01/13

      andrew, the artificial womb HAS been created. It’s called Kim Kardashian.

      Sorry, I’ll stop with the annoying quips and do some work.

    • True Blue Ozzie says:

      10:32am | 18/01/13

      Each to his own I say ! At the end of the day no one else’s life is threathed, the planet wont lose it’s axis of rotation, thousand’s wont die and we will all wake up tomorrow morning to our boring lives, jobs and bills! Our time would be better spent working to improve our lives, than making judgement on others!

    • Greg says:

      10:39am | 18/01/13

      Makes you wonder about the selfishness of a woman to choose to bring into this world a child that has no chance of knowing it’s father AND to not have a father present to give it a chance of a natural and balanced family it deserves. Yet another sad indictment on the greed of some single parents.

    • Philosopher says:

      11:26am | 18/01/13

      do some research, Greg, and go and watch the documentary ‘Ghost’ with Patrick Swayze and Demi Moore. In the deleted scenes, Demi could be seen fiddling around his corpse with a sample jar.

    • Meph says:

      11:30am | 18/01/13

      @Greg

      “Makes you wonder about the selfishness of a woman to choose to bring into this world a child that has no chance of knowing it’s father AND to not have a father present to give it a chance of a natural and balanced family it deserves. Yet another sad indictment on the greed of some single parents.”

      What of the war hero who got his young wife pregnant the week before he ships out, and then dies in the service of his country and protecting the innocent?
      The real world is rarely as black and white as we might hope, so its best not to make sweeping generalizations like the above, simply because you don’t necessarily know the circumstances.

    • Greg says:

      12:55pm | 18/01/13

      There is no comparison between a husband that dies after the woman becomes pregnant to the deliberate decision to use the sperm of a dead man. Just another case of a woman thinking her rights outweigh that of the child. Just another version of an ongoing theme of selfishness.

    • Meph says:

      03:50pm | 18/01/13

      @Greg

      By your original statement, there is no distinction at all. But even taking that aside, you have no idea of the circumstances of their attempt at IVF, nor of why he suicided. Assuming anything of the sort is more a reflection on you than on the people directly involved.

    • James1 says:

      11:36am | 18/01/13

      If your mother is a woman and your father is a dead man, does that make you half zombie?

    • Philosopher says:

      01:00pm | 18/01/13

      it makes you a proud denizen of Logan or Blacktown.

    • Rose says:

      11:51am | 18/01/13

      I’m sorry but I can’t see that this should be permitted. If a man wants his sperm taken and stored, it’s something he needs to do while alive. If he doesn’t do it, it dies with him. Even if he stores his sperm, he should be required to state exactly what is to happen to the sperm in the event of his death.
      I don’t believe that the week after a person dies that their partner would be able to rationally think through all the potential pros and cons of such a major decision. The decision and storage (or not) of sperm needs to be done by the potential father prior to death, his sperm is not something owned by his partner. It belongs to him and nobody but him should decide what happens to it!

    • ByStealth says:

      12:45pm | 18/01/13

      I have to agree with this. I see so much picking and choosing of ‘bodily integrity’.

      My body, my choice… unless its a man who is dead or vegetative and can’t argue what he would want. Then its fine to do whatever.

    • Joan Bennett says:

      12:01pm | 18/01/13

      Perhaps the man didn’t really want children, but felt pressured because his wife did.  A man I work with was told by his partner that she will leave him if he doesn’t have kids with her (so she just wants his sperm and not the decent guy who treats her like gold?).  He was so distraught, he ended up having counselling.  He has now given in to her and will produce a child he does not want, sadly.  I know many men like this - they are terrified their wives will leave them if they do not agree to having a child, that they give in.  The woman still ends up leaving them (no surprise if the relationship is built on lies like this) and they end up paying child support for a child they never wanted.  It also goes some ways to explaining why people are so messed up.  So many of them have at least one parent who didn’t really want them.  Even if the parents stay together, they are not happy. 
      Why blokes can’t tell the woman no and be done with it, I don’t know.  If a man tried to force a woman to have a child in this day and age, she’d tell him to get stuffed.  Why can’t men have the strength to do this?

    • Meph says:

      12:26pm | 18/01/13

      @Joan

      ” A man I work with was told by his partner that she will leave him if he doesn’t have kids with her”

      This would have been his cue to walk. He would be happier finding a partner who wouldn’t pressure him, and she would be happier with a guy who wanted to be a father. I’m eternally baffled by the idea that people will compromise over such a fundamental difference.

    • Rose says:

      12:29pm | 18/01/13

      You do understand that that also happens the other way around, women being pressured into having kids they don’t really want is not unusual either. It is the result of both parties not having discussed and decided on similar future paths before getting married.
      I know I wouldn’t have married my husband if we couldn’t agree on whether or not we were going to have kids, it wouldn’t have been fair on either of us.

    • andrew says:

      12:32pm | 18/01/13

      Try putting up a male profile on a dating website clearly stating that you never want children under any circumstance and / or have had a vasectomy. The level of female interest in the profile will answer your question Joan. At the end of the day the vast majority of young women like to think that they will one day have children and don’t want that possibility taken away from them.

    • Philosopher says:

      12:37pm | 18/01/13

      POLICEMAN: ‘We don’t have a motive yet, pal. Beautiful wife who loved him, about to start a family, she said. It couldn’t be her!’
      MARLOW: ‘Just a minute, big-shot. Your witness said she was seen ‘hugging’ and caressing his corpse in an intimate way. And you say she wanted a kid?’
      POLICEMAN: ‘yeah, so?... oh no! That’s sick, Marlowe. She wouldn’t!’
      MARLOWE: ‘Sick old world, buddy. I’ve seen it all, let me tell you…’

    • Greg says:

      02:17pm | 18/01/13

      @Meph,

      “This would have been his cue to walk.”

      No, it’s not that simple for men. Apart from losing at least half of his assets, he will also have ongoing financial maintenance obligations to be paid to his ex-wife.

      This reduced financial capacity will severely reduce his chances of finding another partner.

      It is much easier for women, who don’t have any ongoing obligations to their ex-husbands after divorce.

    • Rose says:

      03:39pm | 18/01/13

      Rubbish Greg, if there is no children there is no maintenance, except in rare and specific . Your other position depends on the female going into the relationship with no assets, it’s more likely nowadays that both would enter the relationship with assets.

    • Meph says:

      03:46pm | 18/01/13

      @Greg

      ” ongoing financial maintenance obligations to be paid to his ex-wife”

      How do you figure? She demands kids “or else”, he says “no, get knotted” and walks. Where are the financial maintenance obligations?

    • Loxy says:

      03:55pm | 18/01/13

      @ Joan wow you made so many assumptions in your post it was kinda horrifying. I know of both men and women who haven’t wanted kids but ended up doing so because their partner did - guess what? They are all still happily together and the parent who didn’t want the child/children ended up loving their kids and happy they agreed to it.

      Sure there will be some that regret it and never come to terms with having a child, however where is the personal responsibility in your post? If someone doesn’t want kids then that’s a choice and it’s also a choice whether they stick to their guns and accept the end of their relationship or decide that preserving their relationship is more important.

      As far as I’m concerned there is no distinction between a man or a women not wanting kids, nor how each gender responds to the situation. My male cousin’s wife never wanted kids and after 20 years together my cousin told his wife he couldn’t accept not having kids and if she didn’t want to do it the relationship was over. She agreed and 8 years later they have two children who they both love very much and are   a happy and health family.

    • Jim Moriarty says:

      12:20pm | 18/01/13

      That’s… a little creepy.

    • Frank says:

      01:10pm | 18/01/13

      so if this goes it brings up the question of if you allow a widow inpregnate herself with her dead husbands sperm and raise the child on her own (maybe i dont know for sure)is it really any worse then two men or two women raising a child?

    • Rose says:

      03:46pm | 18/01/13

      Yes, it’s much worse and it’s also completely different. The dead person is not allowed a say in what happens to his genetic material, that should never be allowed.

    • Meph says:

      04:46pm | 18/01/13

      @Rose

      To be fair, why would the deceased even care, and even if he did, how would he communicate such a desire?

    • Rose says:

      05:21pm | 18/01/13

      Prior to death the deceased may (or may not have) have had strong thoughts about this. Either way, his widow is taking ownership of something she has no business to. It’s similar to the conflict we have now that allows a family to over rule a deceased person’s wishes regarding organ transplant.
      A person should have the right to determine what happens to all their bits when they are dead. If they did not take the decision to save sperm before death, no one else should have the right to make that decision after death.
      That’s without even beginning to take into account the rights of the child. A woman does not have the right to become pregnant just because she wants to and by whatever method she wants to, without the consent of the man. Had he been alive, the act of sex or commitment to IVF should be considered consent (even with protection, there is still a slim chance of conception, have sex, accept that risk!), if he’s dead, it’s a violation of his body/ genetic material.
      We need to come to terms with the fact that not everything that is medically possible is a good idea, and neither should everything medically possible be available for people who otherwise wouldn’t be able to do whatever it is that they want to!

    • NSS says:

      02:39pm | 18/01/13

      If the problem is consent, then it is moot, I feel.  I quote “The couple had been trying to conceive for 2 years, and had recently resorted to IVF.” If the deceased had given his consent to undergo IVF it is fairly certain he wanted to have a child with his wife. She has the ability to fulfill that wish. No, the child cannot know his father, however many children did not know their natural fathers (ie many adopted kids in the past, and indeed, even now). Most grow up without too many problems, as long as a suitable male role model is prominent in their lives and they have a loving mother.

      At least this child will know that although his conception was not natural, he was very much wanted.

    • Cam says:

      06:04pm | 18/01/13

      Yes but consenting to IVF doesn’t mean he’d be happy for his wife to have his baby after he killed himself.

    • Lorraine says:

      03:49pm | 18/01/13

      Family tree software will refse to accept the details and constantly give messages about wrong dates.
      Apart from that what’s the problem?

    • Greg says:

      05:15pm | 18/01/13

      If it has been established that people have a legal right over the internal contents of their spouse’s body, then women will need to get their husband’s consent before having an abortion.

      That seems fair, as he should have more right to a fetus containing his DNA than she should have to his sperm.

    • Kel says:

      06:00pm | 18/01/13

      As someone who lost her Dad when she was 9 and therefore has had no father for over 35 years, I feel really sad for any child born like this. I’m sorry I just think it’s selfish.

      I miss my Dad even if I don’t really remember him. I miss HAVING a Dad!

    • Robinoz says:

      06:19pm | 18/01/13

      After death a marriage is void. Unless there was a prior agreement to extract anything after death, I don’t think it should be permitted. There is an offence of unlawfully interfering with the body of a deceased person, which means any interference not lawfully upheld ie, post mortems authorised by law or organ retrieval. It’s certainly an interesting ethical issue for some of the Peter Singers of the world to pontificate upon. In the meantime, the product of the sperm extraction and IVF could simply be told the truth. She came from a test tube and no matter what, she is treasured and loved.

 

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