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.