A healthy baby boy was born in Australia using sperm collected from his father two days after he died in a motorcycle accident.
In a landmark case, a South Australian woman, who cannot be named for legal reasons, went to the Supreme Court to win the right to collect sperm from her deceased husband, with the intentions of starting a family after his tragic death.
The court process took two days, so the sperm couldn’t be collected until 48 hours after the man’s death, which caused doctors to question whether the sperm would still be viable.
1. A healthy baby boy was born in Australia using sperm collected from his father two days after he died in a motorcycle accident (image: Natalie Boog).
It wasn’t the first time that sperm had been collected from a dead man to create a baby, however it was 18 hours longer than has been done in the past.
Steve Robson, an IVF expert and associate professor at the Australian National University medical school, told SMH that this was the most extraordinary case he had ever been involved with. He said:
On a professional level this has been, from my perspective, a love story, and it has been incredible to be involved with helping a woman who has so much love and courage.
As a group we were impressed with the amount of love this woman had, and her tremendous endurance against all the obstacles she faced.
The woman then had to go to Canberra to undergo the procedure, because it is illegal in Adelaide.
2. The previous longest time recorded for sperm to be taken posthumously and produce a healthy baby was 30 hours.
Kelton Tremellen, a gynecologist and infertility specialist, who collected the sperm from the deceased man, said he had at first been ambivalent about getting involved. He said:
One reason was that I thought it was going to be a waste of time, and the other was I didn’t know if it was the right thing to do. But this lady had asked many of the doctors in Adelaide to do it and they had all declined.
In the end I decided I would do it because I felt it wasn’t a battle she should have to fight at that point when she had just lost her husband… and the evidence suggests that the majority of widows don’t go on to use the sperm they collect.
Professor Tremellen said he understood that many people would probably think that taking sperm from a dead man was “Frankenstein medicine”.
And when the Supreme Court’s decision was reported in South Australia, some conservative groups did say it was unethical. Family Voice Australia national research officer Ros Phillips said at the time:
Deliberately conceiving a child without a father is an action to fulfil the wishes of adults, rather than the best interests of the child.
3. This 3-D medical animation shows human fertilization.
However, Professor Tremellen concluded that:
[If] the mother and child are happy and the child is healthy, then their opinion isn’t really relevant.
Professor Tremellen added that there was no evidence that the babies suffered any negative physical consequences. He said:
Whether they are harmed mentally is an open point, as there really haven’t been enough children born long enough to know. But it’s a bit hard to make the argument that a child is going to be worse off being born than not.
Having been involved with case and studied the ethical issues involved, Professor Tremellen has concluded that a written consent should not be needed to collect sperm posthumously. He said:
The reality is that the vast majority of young men don’t consider that they are going to die, and certainly not that their sperm might be used by their widows, so it’s unreasonable to say it can’t go ahead without written consent.
If the woman is making a sound decision and can look after the child and has support from her family, I really don’t think society or the law should get in the way.
Associate Professor Robson said that he wanted to report the details of this case and give hope to other women who had gone through the traumatic loss of a loved one.
Share this story with your friends and your thoughts in the comments below. Please retweet it to your Twitter followers — they would want to read that, too.