June 01, 2016

New Life after Death: The Legal Landscape of Posthumous Collection and Use of Gametes

Advances in medical science have enabled the retrieval and use of reproductive material, sperm and ova (collectively, gametes), from a recently deceased individual for procreative purposes. Families experiencing the unexpected death of a loved one may wish to use these advances in hopes of conceiving a child who would carry on the deceased’s genetic legacy. One scenario in which this may happen: A young man dies in an accident and is survived by his spouse. The couple wanted a baby and the surviving spouse continues to long for that child. Doctors can retrieve the deceased man’s sperm, which stays viable for around 48 hours after death, or doctors can use genetic material that the couple had previously stored for future use. While science has made it possible for a dead person’s survivors to conceive a child using his or her reproductive material, the ethical status of the practice and the legal status of the child are far from certain.

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