Do We Need to Regulate Dead Men's Sperm?

|

Uber bioethicist Arthur Caplan thinks that the time has come to regulate what happens to the sperm of dead men. In in his latest column, "Should kids be conceived after a parent dies?," Caplan writes:

There are no clear statistics, but a number of men — some married, some not — deposited their sperm before they were sent to war. This raises a number of questions: Who should be allowed to use that sperm? How many times? How long after the death of the donor? And how long should the sperm be kept frozen if no one claims it?

Right now, there are no laws or rules governing the use of sperm after a man has died. Children already have been born in the United States, Israel and other countries from sperm deposited in sperm banks before their fathers went off to war zones.

Caplan also notes that children have been born using sperm taken from the still warm bodies of men who died unexpectedly. With the advent of egg freezing, dead women may also be able to become posthumous parents in the future.

But why do we need regulation in this area? Have there been abuses? If so, Caplan cites none in his column. Men who freeze sperm might be presumed to want children and in fact, most of them have probably left written instructions on what do with their reproductive remains. If a man hasn't left any explicit instructions, the decision should be left up to the next of kin–wives or parents. The same thing goes for for taking sperm from men who suddenly drop dead.

Caplan fears that without further regulation of reproductive remains, children will be born without competent people to take care of them. Competence has never been a requirement for parenthood, but it seems very likely that the people who go to all the trouble involved in using posthumous sperm and eggs will love the children who result.

Whole Caplan column here.

NEXT: Silent Running...for President

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. But why do we need regulation in this area? Have there been abuses? If so, Caplan cites none in his column.

    There may not be a need for regulation in this area, but I don’t think Caplan should be blamed for asking us to consider potiential problems before they actually happen.

  2. Agreed, Dan, there’s nothing wrong with thinking of potential problems. But it’s also worth thinking about whether those problems can be worked out via contracts rather than top-down solutions.

  3. Do We Need to Regulate Dead Men’s Sperm?

    If so, I’d like it to be called the Start Me Up Act.

  4. Yes, a line that you’d think would get censored on radio, wouldn’t you?

  5. This raises a number of questions: Who should be allowed to use that sperm? How many times? How long after the death of the donor? And how long should the sperm be kept frozen if no one claims it?

    Oh! Oh! Oh! [hear that in a Horschak voice]

    Easy as pie. Duh, Duh, Duh.

    The sperm belongs to, gasp, the dead guy and he can er, ah, dispose of it as he sees fit. Sort of like leaving instructions as to what to do with his half restored 56 Ford pickup. Absent a will, state law provides that all his assets go to the next of kin, typically THE WIFE. If nobody claims it, well then, I guess the custodian would throw it out or sell it when the rent money stops coming in. To make it easier, think of what happens to the stuff you put into storage when you left the skank and then didn’t pay the storage bill for a few months.

  6. Children already have been born in the United States, Israel and other countries from sperm deposited in sperm banks before their fathers went off to war zones.

    Ditto those who had a last roll in the hay before shoving off only to meet the Reaper in a lonely corner of Iraq.

  7. “Dead Men’s Sperm” would be a great name for a band.

  8. This has been a problem for at least as far back as the nurse-mounting-the-dead-guy scene in The World According to Garp.

    And whatever happened to direct deposits?

  9. I don’t think Caplan should be blamed for asking us to consider potiential problems before they actually happen.

    I got one!

    You can’t sue a dead guy when the “face cream” fails to remove the acne.

  10. When will we have the technology to abort bioethicists before they’re born, and would that be ethical?

  11. You, you, you make a grown man cry
    You, you make a dead man come
    You, you make a dead man come

  12. If a woman, who is a foreign national, becomes pregnant using the sperm of a dead American citizen, does the child become an American citizen?
    Can a child born from a dead man’s sperm receive receive his Social Security benefits?
    If so, what’s to keep some Cult leader from fathering a thousand children after his death and them have them all getting Social Security benefits?

  13. Strangely, this is really not much of an issue in America. The rest of the world? I dunno.

    The wife and I went through the in-vitro process three times in the last year. The contract between us and the doctors spells out in specific detail what happens to the material (both male and female) in the event of death, incapacity, or divorce. All of the dumb questions he’s asking are answered by mutual agreement between all parties. If I die, my wife can use the sperm until it runs out, as many times as she wants. The center will keep our material until we quit paying the $600 a year rent, at which point it will be disposed of according to our instructions. Imagine that, people are bright enough to solve these dilemmas without needing government or bioethicists!

    Does he honestly think that medical procedures that cost as much as this one does are being performed willy-nilly? Just getting the procedure done is a substantial investment in terms of time and money. It ain’t fun, trust me on that one. All things considered, he’s taking a non-problem that has perfectly acceptable solutions in place and whining about the fact that nobody consulted him before making the decisions.

  14. Ewww, I just read the headline as “Do We Need to Regurgitate Dead Men’s Sperm?”

  15. Sam McManus – Perhaps you might be better off discussing that with a mental health professional. 😉

  16. One of the abuses I have seen is girlfriends getting sperm from dead boyfriends who didn’t previously consent. Since she now has a child support claim on his estate, his heirs have been harmed by her greed.

  17. Nothing should be done until the man
    answers some questions in person
    what is to be done with his sperm,
    with whom, when, and where.
    He is to be held responsibile.

  18. You won’t come back from Dead Man’s Sperm!

  19. But why do we need regulation in this area? Have there been abuses? If so, Caplan cites none in his column.

    Try this.
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/genes/article/0,2763,1045396,00.html

    It was a huge story in the UK for several months.

  20. Under recent regulations all sperm donors who are not “intimate partners” of the recipient whose ova are to be fertilized must take a newly created HIV test that only a few labs offer and that is much more expensive than the HIV test used in all the STD clinics around the country.

    The donor and the person he is donating for can be best friends, or sister and brother and law, etc etc. People who know each other well but simply do not have sex with each other.

    I am sure the patent holder for this expensive test is connected to the Bush administration, or to Senator Kennedy or some other corrupt figure. All those people spending thousands of dollars on fertility treatements are just to easy a target for looters who want to award a monopoly to the politically connected.

  21. they can have my sperm when they pry it out of my cold, dead fingers… uh, testicles? Um… tell you what, on second thought, you can have all you like.

  22. Wouldn’t the concerned guy’s concerns apply as well to a child born posthumously? He’d already be a half orphan! Or what if a child is a bastard with no Daddy stepping forward? What if a child’s Dad dies at any time when the child is a minor? Would we have to kill him?

    Let’s say the sperm donor isn’t dead, but in a coma. Would that matter?

    Let’s say the sperm donor isn’t even in a coma. He is anonymous. Would that be bad?

    What was the “problem” again? Oh, babies being born with dead fathers.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.