Post-Mortem Sperm Collection: Case # 77

Essay by way28College, UndergraduateA, October 2009

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Medical technology has progressed by leaps and bounds within this last decade. Now it is possible for a woman to conceive her husband's child even after he is deceased; post-mortem sperm collection. Posthumous sperm retrieval (PSR) is a procedure where the spermatozoa are extracted from a man after he is pronounced legally brain dead. The ethical questions here are if the sperm should be removed from this man's dead body, he did not give prior consent, and should this child be conceived to a single mother.

Mr. and Mrs. Jamison were married and decided that time was right for them to start a family. They attempted to conceive a child but for whatever the reason were unsuccessful. The next step could have been artificial insemination for the couple, but tragically, before they could take that next step, Mr. Jamison was killed in an accident. Society sees artificial insemination between a married man and women everyday so they do not give this idea another thought.

At this point society must come to terms with making an ethical judgment as to whether the sperm should be removed from Mr. Jamison's dead body and whether Mrs. Jamison should become a single mother.

Typically, post-mortem sperm collection is a procedure that must be performed within the first 24 hours after death so that there is a reasonable chance to conceive. The hospital has the established procedures, technology, storage, and routinely performs postmortem harvesting of sperm for future use, but they do not have a policy for this situation, where Mr. Jamison is not capable of participating in this consent process. Mr. Jamison has no advanced directive. Upon her husband's death, under State law, Mrs. Jamison has the right to make all medical decisions that concern her husband, which the hospital ethics committee noted. Mr. Jamison's physician expressed that the couple, Mr. and Mrs. Jamison, were trying to conceive a child. This demonstrated Mr. Jamison's desire for his wife to have his child. Mr. Jamison's parents disagreed with their daughter-in-law's decision because they believe their son would not have wanted his child to be raised with only one parent.

Some people may argue that it is wrong to bring a child into the world today to a single parent. There are children conceived everyday and some of these may have been unplanned pregnancies, to single mothers, or they could have been born to a mother and father, but the mother could have died during childbirth, leaves the father as the single parent. A baby could be born to a single parent and still become a productive member of society.

Utilitarianism would offer the opportunity for Mrs. Jamison to experience the joys of motherhood. Utilitarian's believe that each act should be thought through, and all the consequences should be weighed. Also they believe that the act that will cause the most pleasure and happiness for the most people should be carried out. Certainly, being able to conceive her late husband's baby and raise their child will bring Mrs. Jamison much pleasure and happiness. Having her husband's child would allow her to always have a part of her husband. Mrs. Jamison's in-laws may come to realize that yes, they lost a son, but they could gain a part of him back. There are times when a grandchild will do or say something that will remind the grandparents of their child. So even if they did not, originally, like their daughter-in-law's decision to have their grandchild they could ultimately share in the joys of helping to raise their grandchild. They all would be able to share their own personal stories with this child about his or her father, which would insure that the child knows about its father. Mrs. Jamison having Mr. Jamison's child could bring them great pleasure and happiness after their grief has lessened.

The posthumous sperm retrieval and artificial insemination are the main ethical issue with some people. This procedure takes living material from the male's body and implants it into the female's body. In this procedure, the sperm is placed directly into the woman's cervix, fallopian tubes, or uterus. Some people may argue that this process is unnatural. If artificial insemination is unnatural than so should organ transplants. In both these procedures there is living tissue being removed from one body and being implanted into another body. Should a person that needs an organ transplant not receive that organ because this is considered by some people unnatural? It would be unnatural to not take that organ to live. This is an important issue because life would cease to exist without organs.

Mrs. Jamison has the right to use her husband's sperm to conceive a child they both wanted. The hospital has the established procedures to harvest Mr. Jamison's sperm and the hospital's ethics committee has approved other post-mortem sperm collections. Mr. Jamison's physician expressed that the couple were trying to conceive a child. This demonstrated Mr. Jamison's desire for his wife to have his child. Until recently posthumous sperm retrieval was not natural, but through the advancements in medicinal science it is now becoming common to perform these procedures. Even though her husband has died, Mrs. Jamison is just trying to fulfill her dream of having a family with her husband. In the final analysis, this course of action produces the greatest possibility for continued happiness for Mrs. Jamison.

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