Death No Longer Provides An Absolute Barrier To Fatherhood

July 15, 1998

Beyond The Grave

SPERM taken from a dead man have been used for the first time to establish a pregnancy. This seems sure to intensify calls for reproductive technologies to be more tightly regulated.

The man died suddenly, and his family asked for his sperm to be preserved. A team led by Cappy Rothman, a urologist at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles, obtained a sample by removing the epididymis-the tubes where sperm mature and are stored-squeezing the sperm out, and freezing them. Rothman has performed or supervised this procedure about a dozen times. "It gives people hope and lessens the pain of suddenly losing a loved one," he says.

This is the first time one of the families has asked for the sperm to be used. After being defrosted, they were injected into eggs harvested from the man's wife, one of which successfully implanted in her uterus. The woman is now one month pregnant. She and her family have asked to remain anonymous until the end of the third month.

Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, fears that regulations are lagging behind the technical advances that have made posthumous reproduction possible. "These technologies make it possible to steal reproductive tissue from you without your consent," he says.

In Britain, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act requires a man to give his written consent if his sperm are to be used when he is dead. Diane Blood, the Nottinghamshire widow who eventually became pregnant using sperm taken from her husband as he lay in a terminal coma, did so in Belgium only after a lengthy legal battle to win the right to take the sperm abroad.

Author : Phil Cohen, San Francisco

New Scientist issue 18th July 1998, page 5


New Scientist

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