If you live long enough you really do see it all. News.Com.Au reports that an Australian judge has permitted a widow to extract sperm from the body of her husband who recently committed suicide to be used for In Vitro Fertilization (IVF) of the woman. According to the report “The woman, whose name has been suppressed, had spent the past two years trying to conceive and recently began in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment when her husband, who suffered from severe bouts of depression, committed suicide.” From the article there is a report on some of the reasoning of the court
Under the Human Tissue and Transplant Act, a designated officer at a hospital (usually a senior doctor) may authorise a request from a next of kin for the removal of human tissue from a deceased person for medical procedures. Judge Edelman said sperm fell under that scope. The only restriction is when a person dies in sudden or suspicious circumstances. In those cases permission needs to be given by the State Coroner who did not object to the sperm being removed and stored. Because of the short turnaround time for the hearing, Judge Edelman said the Health Minister did not have an opportunity to appear at the proceeding. He said the Minister would have an opportunity to be represented at any future hearing concerning the use of the sperm for IVF.
This case raises a number of very interesting questions.
First, I think the court’s reasoning distinguishing the extraction of sperm (permitted) versus its eventual use through IVF (which seems may be subject to prohibition later) interestingly implicitly makes a distinction I have drawn in my own work between a bodily integrity right related to one’s reproductive material and a non-use right I have called “The Right Not to Be a Genetic Parent?” The Court seems to suggest a default rule where extraction is permitted as a matter of course (no posthumous bodily integrity) but perhaps a different rule as to the Right Not to Be a Genetic Parent. Second, the case raises the more general question of the nature of the interests of the would-be genetic parent in posthumous reproduction. In The Right Not to Be a Genetic Parent I argued that the strongest argument for such a right is connected to what I call “attributional parenthood,” the attribution by the genetic parent, the child, and third-parties of parenthood to him/her on the basis of the genetic tie. Posthumous parentage, though creates some special problems with this argument. As I suggest in a rather lengthy footnote (n. 64) in that article: