August 12, 2022

British grandparents use dead son’s sperm to create child

Allegations of criminal behaviour by urologist

Another fascinating chapter in the unfolding history of the Reproductive Revolution, this time about posthumous sperm extraction.

A few years ago an unnamed 26-year-old unmarried man was killed in a motorcycle accident in the UK and his body was not discovered for two days. His wealthy parents, who are in their 50s, immediately set to work. He had been their only son and they desperately wanted a male heir.

They engaged a urologist to extract sperm from their son’s corpse. This was frozen and a year later couriered to the California IVF clinic of Dr Jeffrey Smotrich. The man’s parents chose an egg donor whose profile matched an imagined spouse for their son.

Four embryos were created and Dr Smotrich performed gender selection to select a male. This was then implanted in an American surrogate and the child was born in 2015. After the necessary paperwork was completed to ensure that the child was legally theirs, the grandparents returned home.

There are serious legal issues hanging over all the participants in this drama. Extracting sperm posthumously without consent is probably a criminal offence. Professor Allan Pacey, a former chairman of the British Fertility Society, pointed out that “The clinician who extracted the sperm is in breach of the law as is the facility which stored and exported the sample.” Gender selection is also illegal in the UK (but not in California).  

Dr Smotrich said he had no ethical qualms about his role and said that the remaining sperm and three embryos were in storage. “I'm not here to judge who should be a parent,” he told the Daily Mail. “In this case, from what the parents told me, their son absolutely wanted children. I was happy to help a tragic story end with a happy outcome.”

The case created a furore in the British media. Barrie Drewitt-Barlow, one of Britain’s first gay fathers, commented on Good Morning Britain: “This woman was going through grief at losing her child and she wanted to make her son live on and this was her way of doing it. Who are we to judge? The technology’s there why not use it?”    

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