Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Ghost Dad?

This story disturbed me, so I thought I'd share it. This 21 year-old man died. Unmarried. His mother got a judge to allow her to collect sperm from his corpse so she could find a surrogate and someday have a grandchild. My first thought was this seems weird and creepy.

But then my lawyer brain kicked in. I took two classes in law school that touched on the issues presented in this case: Family Law and a Bioethics class. Beyond the basics like property and trusts and estates. Obviously his mother was his next of kin so gets to decide what to do with his body: organ donation, form of burial. I'm assuming at 21, he hadn't prepared any legal documents indicating his wishes for his remains.

This seems like more than just an inheritance/property issue, though. She is looking to create a child without her son's authorization. Maybe the law should require some kind of clear evidence that this young man not only did intend to father a child someday, but further that he would still have wanted a child to be created in this way. It just seems a big leap for this mother to say that because her 21 year-old son had expressed a desire to have kids in that mythical some day, he would still want some surrogate to have his child now that he wouldn't be around to father that child. I just don't think a guy should be turned into a sperm donor without his expressed consent.

Would it make any difference if she just wanted to donate his sperm anonymously to a sperm bank? That would be more in line with traditional organ donation: using his remains to help people who otherwise might not be able to have children. To me that seems different from the mother using a surrogate to produce a grandchild. There's a difference between letting others become parents and turning the now dead man into a parent himself.

I'm still turning this interesting legal issue over in my head. Anyone else have a thought?


Meryl said...

No matter how you slice it, this is just weird.

BellsforStacy said...


As an aside, my husband as a child wanted to name his son Buddy Flash. I don't think that's an indication or an opening for someone to take sperm from his corpse and implant a stranger.

And, since we're using that as evidence that he wanted a child, does that mean she's obligated to call the child Van? And will she be allowed to do this 3 times?

My gut says no, no, no to this. Morally. Legally there may be no standing. But no, no, no.

Unknown said...

I agree. Just weird.

lu said...

i don't know the in's and out's of the law as you do and perhaps there is a legal standing for such a case, but i think that bioethically it seems fishy.

DBB said...

Part of the reason some people have kids is a desire for genetic immortality - to live onwards through ones offspring.

That would seem to be the desire most in play here. That I can understand. While consent issues can indeed be troubling, in this case, I'd have to say, not so much, simply because, what is the cost to him? He's dead. He's not going to be paying child support. He's not going to be obligated to do anything. It costs him nothing. If someone took sperm from my corpse, well, I wouldn't care - because I was dead. Dead people don't care about anything.

The question of who raises the child and how the child even comes to be is a separate issue - and could vary greatly.

It may just be wishful thinking - it seems unlikely that sperm will do anything other than sit in a freezer.

I don't think it even presents all that interesting of a legal argument, simply because, well, he's dead. All custody would go to the mother, if there ever was one.

It would be much more interesting if he were alive and somehow had sperm extracted against his will (medically, while he was unconcious), then someone got pregnant from that - would he have to pay child support? Would he have parental rights? I'd say yes to both, given the way the law is now. But it would be a very interesting question.

S said...

I do think this is probably just a knee-jerk mourning reaction from the mother and she probably won't ever use it, but I do still think it's an interesting legal/ethics issue.

Of course the dead guy doesn't care anymore, but he might have cared before he died. I doubt he ever expressed the desire to have his genes live on. I'd guess that's more what mom wants now. I right now can say that I don't want my parents to harvest an egg out of me and have a surrogate bear them a child to raise who would then be my "daughter". Seems like a terrible way to raise a kid and I would object to my egg being used that way. I think I'm just not comfortable with treating eggs and sperm the same as we would any other body part of an organ donor. I wish I could state my discomfort with it in a better way, but I'm still thinking about it.

Maybe on this particular issue, we should err on the side of requiring written declaration of intent from the prospective donor before the material can be used.

Unknown said...

First reaction for me: weird and creepy. But maybe part of my initial repulsion is based on the probably mistaken image of the woman harvesting the sperm herself with rubber gloves on.

Maybe, aside from the legal considerations, it's a cool use of the technology and scientific advancements we enjoy today.

Blog Designed by : NW Designs