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“A Child From the Heavens?” A Discussion of Posthumous Egg and Sperm Retrieval

“Who is in your will?” As we all grow older, we have substantial posthumous decisions that need to be made. However, dramatic enhancements in end-of-life care have elicited the question: “Do you want your sperm or egg to be collected?” As highlighted in the New York Post, Sanni Liu gave birth to her daughter two years after her husband’s death.(1) This was only possible due to emerging technology that aided in the preservation of Liu’s husband’s sperm. However, the technology surrounding posthumous sperm and egg retrieval raises an ethical conversation.


Should single parents still conceive a child? Before further explanation, it should be noted that the majority of children raised by single parents have similar life outcomes compared to children raised with two parents. However, the problem of whether a child should be born to a single parent revolves around current ethical logic. In contemporary society, a parent is expected to provide security and inclination to raise a child so as to not force the child into certain living conditions. This question is best explained by the American Journal of Biomedical Science and Research: “It was strongly suggested that this is contrary to the child’s interest, as it is planned to be born having already lost one parent and so, he [or she] will be deprived of the right to be raised by both parents.” (2)

In addition, there are individuals who posthumously retrieve the sperm or egg of their partner to commemorate their spouse. It should be questioned whether the individual who conceived the child created a new life with the intention of loving a child or for the sake of memorializing their spouse. 

As with many other ethical dilemmas, there needs to be a discussion regarding consent. If a spouse dies, is the decision of having a child entirely up to the surviving individual? Current research seems to say no. In fact, the reason why some countries ask their citizens to consciously agree to being organ donors is because even a deceased individual has their own rights.

Stat News provides another situation that explores the gray area of posthumous egg/sperm retrieval: Peter Zhu died in a ski accident but reportedly told his parents of his final wish to have children.(3) The parents were given authority over Zhu’s sperm. In these situations, should an explicit statement regarding childbirth be written before death in order for the sperm/egg to be retrieved? Should age also be considered? How young does a child need to be to decide to write a statement about childbirth? Debate around controversial medical topics already exists, how would the age to write a statement be decided?

With the growing technology in reproductive care, medical treatment, and health policy, there is a growing concern within the many complexities associated with posthumous sperm and egg retrieval. 


Edited By: Meghna Katyal

Designed By: Eugene Cho


Citations:

  1. Iliadis, C., Frantaza, A., & Ouzounakis, P. (2019). Ethical dilemmas in posthumous assisted reproduction. American Journal of Biomedical Science & Research, 5(3), 164–168. https://doi.org/10.34297/ajbsr.2019.05.000902 

  2. Joseph, A. (2019, March 13). “They don’t want his story to end”: Efforts to save the sperm of the deceased come with heartache and tough questions. STAT; STAT. https://www.statnews.com/2019/03/13/postmortem-sperm-retrieval/

  3. Kleeman, J. (2023, September 11). “How posthumous conception is changing motherhood: “it’s not as offensive as it was.” New York Post. https://nypost.com/2023/09/09/posthumous-conception-is-changing-motherhood/ 



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