The advancements brought forth by science and technology often lead to a collision between two groups of individuals that have always been in an epic tug of war; the liberals and the ethicists. While ethicists often cite morals as the reason to clamp down of medical advancements, liberalists are firm that science and the field of medicine should not be derailed by the antagonistic whims of the society. One such topic that has continued to be a source of conflict ending in protracted battles in the court room is the issue of posthumous reproduction.
Innovations in the field of assisted reproduction have made it possible today for conception to occur even after the death of a spouse. A mention of this subject often elicits questions pertaining to ethics and legality of the practice.
The history of posthumous reproduction dates back to antiquity but only in subtle cases involving husbands who died in wars, in accidents or due to illnesses after conception and pregnancy had already occurred.
However, the non-coital posthumous reproduction dates back to the 1980s when efforts by Rothman, a renowned researcher, led to successful retrieval of sperms from a brain dead man (Thomson, 2005). Since then a number of successful pregnancies have been reported. The first ever pregnancy through posthumous sperm retrieval was announced in 1998 with a successful birth occurring in March 1999. In a case that drew much public controversy, Mrs. Blood was granted permission by a UK court to be inseminated with her husbands preserved gamete making it the first such case in the UK and spurring interest in the United States (Emily, 2001). The field of posthumous reproduction remains encumbered with legal restrictions and is shrouded with a lack of clear guidelines. Only Israel has a favorable legislation on the issue with others such as the United States dragging their feet and avoiding broaching into the issue due to the controversy it raises. Controversy aside though, posthumous reproduction remains a noble advancement that is giving hope to families, preserving the memories of their loved ones as well as providing them with a means of securing their lineage.
The core essence of posthumous reproduction is to help realize dreams of people wishing to have children with their partners whether such partners are alive or dead. Through posthumous harvesting of the male and female gametes, the intention is on the preservation of the family and the rights of individuals to have families. An argument hence in support of posthumous reproduction has to be based on these two factors amongst others.
Posthumous reproduction is playing a major role in allowing the continuation of a deceased’s lineage. As aforementioned, Israel is amongst the few countries that have legalized posthumous reproduction within a spectrum of clear cut guidelines. A look at the build up to the legalization debate indicates that the major argument put forth was centering on the continuing a family lineage. Families with members in the army were concerned that their sons and daughters were meeting their deaths at an early childless age. Posthumous reproduction was hence seen as providing the families with the means to preserve their children’s memories (Douglas, 2010). Indeed, a similar argument is being made by medical activists in the western world. In addition to the preservation of memories and continuing the lineage, it assists in fighting grief by providing the needed emotional and psychological comfort to the family by creating the feeling that a part of the deceased individual will still be in existence (David, 2007).
Posthumous reproduction affirms the right of every individual to have children. Despite the many physiological and genetic dysfunctions that exist, it is considered an inalienable right of every individual to procreate. Death is seen as impeding factor to procreation by many individuals. However today, posthumous reproduction provides a solution to this. Gametes retrieved from the bodies of departed are allowing husbands and wives to realize their partner’s dreams of procreation (Felisa, 2005). Courts have also recognized this and have often ruled to the favor of the spouse. According to most rulings, the fact that two individuals are in a matrimonial union should be enough reason to affirm that they espouse to procreate. Posthumous reproduction, incase of the demise of one such partner, should be allowed (Phillip & David, 2005).
It is without doubt that posthumous reproduction has revolutionized the field of assisted reproduction. However, it is crucial to appreciate the raging sentiments expressed against this technological advancement. The consent of the deceased is a broached topic with most proponents seeking to have a written consent of the deceased being availed before posthumous reproduction is allowed (Swinn et al, 1998). It is the argument on the interest of the child that however dominates the criticism to posthumous reproduction. This is based on the notion that it would be inappropriate bringing up a child in a single parenthood environment. This argument infers “that the children are worse off than they would have been if they had not been created” (Carson, Jeffrey and William, 2000). While appreciating the existence of studies that emphasized on two parents families being better than single parent families, it is crucial to observe that this does not disparage single parent families. Children born in single parent families and those as a result of posthumous reproduction have equal chances of leading emotionally and economically fulfilled lives just like the rest conceived in the conventional methods (Charles & Maureen 2005).
The unlimited possibilities brought forth by the innovations in the field of assisted reproduction may never be fully realized unless the various legal and social hurdles against the technology are addressed. Although still clouded with numerous ethical questions, posthumous reproduction has accomplished major strides that are helping improve humanity. The government hence needs to move with speed and introduce legislations on posthumous reproduction that will ensure the interests of the deceased’s family are respected and also that all individuals’ right to procreation are recognized.
Felissa, R. L. (2005) Clinical genetics in nursing practice. Springer Publishing Company.
Carson S, Jeffrey R.G. and William H.K. (2000) Ethics of post-mortem sperm retrieval. Hum Reprod 2000; 15(4): 739-745. Retrieved on May 2, 2010 from http://humrep.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/content/full/15/4/739
Charles, P.K. & Maureen, M (2005). Posthumous Reproduction. Suffolk University Law School Faculty Publications. Retrieved on May 2, 2010 from http://lsr.nellco.org/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1033&context=suffolk_fp
David, C. (2003) Family: critical concepts in sociology. Routledge.
David, S. (2007) Biomedical ethics: a multidisciplinary approach to moral issues in medicine and biology. University Press of New England
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Phillip, E. P., David E. B. (2005) Office andrology. Contemporary endocrinology. Humana Press.
Swinn M, Emberton M, Ralph D, Smith M and Serhal P. (1998) Retrieving semen from a dead patient: utilitarianism in the absence of definitive guidelines. BMJ; 317:1583
Thomson, Wadsworth (2005) Introductory sociology research updates: Current perspectives. Current perspectives: readings from InfoTrac college edition
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Posthumous reproduction. (2017, Feb 06). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/posthumous-reproduction/