It’s a one in a million situation but that doesn’t mean it’s not on the rise…
Posthumous sperm retrieval—yeah, it’s exactly what it sounds like. PSR is a medical procedure in which a man’s sperm is extracted after death. The wife or legal partner of a male can sometimes opt to extract sperm postmortem in order to undergo intrauterine insemination (IUI), become pregnant, and in turn, create an heir.
If this sounds like the plot of an excessively dramatic Lifetime Original Movie, you’re not misguided. But believe it or not, PSR is a medical decision more and more women who suffer the heartbreaking loss of a partner are considering.
The very first posthumous sperm retrieval dates back to the 1970s, when urologist Cappy Rothman—widely known as “the King of Sperm” for his life-changing efforts in the infertility community—performed the procedure and published the first literature on sperm banking in 1977.
From its inception, posthumous sperm retrieval has been a controversial process, but also adding to its surrounding cloud of mystery is its abundant lack of government regulation. It’s that very absence of precedents that urges many controversial questions about the ethics of PSR. Medically, it is possible to extract sperm within the reasonable time frame (10-36 hours postmortem) of men who have died. But despite the medical capability to do so, the vexed question remains: Should we? Is it ethical to decide a man can father a child without being alive to consent it?
There is much to consider regarding postmortem conception including the various reasons it becomes an option, the potential legal ramifications, and the couples’ plans for their future.
Postmortem sperm retrieval itself refers to the invasive procedure in which a surgeon cuts into a deceased male’s glands and collects the secretion. Postmortem conception itself has much broader parameters, which could include cancer patients who provided samples before receiving chemotherapy treatment. When males who sperm bank provide samples, they fill out paperwork in which they have to specify: If he should die, should his sperm be destroyed or left to a beneficiary to use to conceive a baby?
Another potential situation in which postmortem conception is often an option or at least a topic of discussion is if a male has to complete a military deployment. Sometimes, a man will decide to freeze sperm prior to deployment; other times, if sperm banking was not done beforehand death, his surviving partner could legally have the sperm procured.
One such potential legal ramification of birthing a child with a deceased father is the issue of proving paternity. Since the father has passed, one would have to legally establish paternity before being able to list him as the biological father on the birth certificate, making it impossible for the child to collect social security benefits until paternity is verified.
After the sperm is obtained, it will likely undergo thorough testing to ensure the motility, viability, and overall health of the specimen. Once cleared, it will be “cleaned,” meaning, the semen will be separated from the excess seminal fluid. Once preparation is complete, an OBGYN infertility specialist can begin the first round of intrauterine insemination. During IUI, a catheter will directly deliver the cleaned sperm to a woman’s uterus, shortening the sperms’ journey, getting them closer to the fallopian tubes, and therefore upping chances of pregnancy. Success rates for IUI can be as high as 20% per cycle, depending on several factors, including age and potency of the specimen.
While still considered rare, strange, and unconventional by many, various postmortem conception processes are gaining traction in the public eye and in turn, popularity. Since the death of a partner also means grieving the prospect of future children, postmortem conception—however unusual or controversial it is—can provide comfort in the manifestation of a legacy for a grieving partner.
What are your thoughts regarding posthumous sperm retrieval and other branches of postmortem conception? Share your thoughts in the comments below!