Widow, 62, granted court approval to harvest late husband's sperm for IVF consideration

Surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013 showed strong support for retrieving sperm or eggs from a deceased partner for post-mortem conception. Picture: Pavel Danilyuk/Unsplash

Surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013 showed strong support for retrieving sperm or eggs from a deceased partner for post-mortem conception. Picture: Pavel Danilyuk/Unsplash

Published Jan 19, 2024

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In a recent report by Business Insider, a 62-year-old woman was granted court permission to remove sperm from her deceased husband for possible use in posthumous IVF.

The woman made the application for the removal and storage of her husband's sperm while his body was still in a morgue.

Posthumous reproduction (PHR) involves using sperm after a man’s death to initiate pregnancy in his surviving female partner.

Techniques like stimulated ejaculation, micro epididymal sperm aspiration or testicular sperm extraction can be used to procure sperm from a deceased or brain-dead individual.

This practice raises ethical questions about using reproductive materials without consent.

The couple, who had been married since 1983 and had lost their daughter in 2013 and their son in 2019, had been discussing having another child before the man's death.

Despite being advised by a fertility expert that she was too old to have a child herself, the woman stated that her cousin in the Philippines, who is in her 20s, volunteered to be a surrogate for her husband's child.

According to a study published in the journal Human Reproduction, the number of successful posthumous conceptions is limited.

The study found that between 1980 and 2018, there were a total of 11 documented cases of posthumous conception resulting in live births.

However, it's important to note that this data may not capture all instances of posthumous conception as some cases may go unreported.

Furthermore, the success rate of posthumous conception is relatively low, and there are ethical and legal considerations surrounding the use of reproductive materials from a deceased individual.

In granting the application, Judge Fiona Seaward ruled that the sperm could be harvested for "storage for later use in IVF procedures".

However, it was noted that the ruling approved the harvesting and storage of the sperm but not its immediate use as Western Australia prohibits posthumous fertilisation.

In a George State University Law review article by Kristine Knaplund, it was revealed that many adults have stored their reproductive material for potential later use in creating embryos.

The article also suggests that Americans are generally in favour of the idea of a partner using their loved one's sperm or eggs after death.

A random survey of 857 adults in 2013 found that 76% believed post-mortem conception should be allowed if the deceased was married at the time of death and 66% would approve of it for an unmarried deceased person.

The survey also found that 81% of respondents were supportive if the deceased had given written consent.

Surveys conducted in 2012 and 2013 also showed strong support for a partner retrieving sperm or eggs from a deceased partner for post-mortem conception.

To go ahead with the procedure, the woman would need to apply to transfer the case to another jurisdiction that permits such procedures, as reported by The Guardian.