New laws would allow children to be artificially created from the genes of dead humans… “posthumous conception” creates living from the dead
One of the hottest topics being debated in bioethics right now is the concept of conceiving a child using the sperm or egg of a dead person. For example, a man’s frozen sperm could be used after his death for in vitro fertilization or artificial insemination, or a woman’s frozen eggs could be used to create a child using IVF and the resultant embryo could be implanted into another woman’s womb. Not surprisingly, this approach is being met with a lot of ethical and legal questions.
Right now, Ireland is mulling legislation that would allow people to use the reproductive cells of their deceased partners or spouses to conceive children posthumously. Eggs and sperm could be donated by a person before they die or extracted from their corpse shortly after they pass away. However, the person must have consented to such a move while they were still alive.
The bill was already discussed earlier this year, and a final version may be drafted and presented to parliament soon. The bill would require the children created by the procedure to be carried inside the womb of the relationship’s surviving female partner.
Similar legislation has been considered in the U.S., Israel and Canada. In the U.S., a New York police detective’s daughter was born in 2016, two years after her father was murdered. His wife of three months asked doctors to extract sperm from his body and preserve it on the night of this death. U.S. laws are a bit fuzzy regarding posthumous conception, experts say, but post-death reproduction is generally allowed if specific consent is in place.
In Israel, around 5,000 adults have already set up “biological wills” that say they want their sperm or eggs to be frozen and then used to conceive offspring should they pass away prior to having children. Many of these were put in place by soldiers in the Israeli Defense Forces. In France, however, posthumous conception is forbidden under any circumstances.
Posthumous conception poses ethical, legal questions
Bioethicist C. Ben Mitchell pointed out some of the potential ethical issues posed by such a move. For example, he said that bringing a child into the world with just one parent not only raises ethical issues but also emotional, relational and psychological issues for the child throughout their lifetime.
Others argue that it’s a basic human right that should not be regulated by law and that the lack of regulation regarding such practices can send people to seek potentially risky procedures.
Frozen embryos are another consideration that poses bioethical questions. In 2014, for example, a 2-year-old in Texas stood to inherit 11 frozen embryos following the murder of both his parents. What exactly can a 2-year-old do with frozen embryos?
There are also some legal questions to consider regarding these procedures and matters like inheritance. For example, could a second spouse try to divert inheritance from the dead partner’s children with a first spouse by conceiving a child?
These are the types of problems that must be dealt with when you interfere with nature. Modern science is capable of great things, but how far can people go with playing god before it all gets out of hand? Is creating the living from the dead a beautiful way to honor a lost loved one, or is it taking science too far?
Read MedicalExtremism.com for more investigations into “extreme medicine.”