DEAD men tell no tales, but thanks to science, they can sure make babies, In a first-of-its-kind operation, sperm from a dead man have been used for the first time to establish a pregnancy. This seems sure to intensify calls for reproductive technologies to be more tightly regulated.
The man died suddenly, and his family asked for his sperm to be preserved. A team led by Cappy Rothman, a urologist at Century City Hospital in Los Angeles, USA, obtained a sample by removing the epididymis the tubes where sperms mature and are stored squeezing the sperm out, and freezing them. Rothman has performed or supervised this procedure about a dozen times. "It gives people hope and lessens the pain of suddenly losing a loved one," he says.
This is the first time one of the families has asked for the sperm to be used. After being defrosted, they were injected into eggs harvested from the man's wife, one of which was successfully implanted in her uterus. The woman is now one month pregnant. She and her family have requested anonymity until the end of the third month.
Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania in
Philadelphia, USA, fears that regulations are lagging behind the technology that has made posthumous reproduction a reality. "These make it possible to steal reproductive tissue from you without your consent," he warns.
In countries such as the UK, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act requires a man to give his written consent if his sperms are to be used when he is dead. Diane Blood, the Nottinghamshire widow who eventually became pregnant using sperm taken from her husband as he lay in terminal coma, did so in Belgium only after a lengthy legal battle to win the right to take the sperm abroad.
But in other nations, for instance the us, the initial attempts at regulating posthumous reproduction are only just emerging. A bill, currently before the New York state legislature, proposes that a man must give written consent for
his sperm to be retrieved after his death, and the request for this to be done must come only from his wife or partner.
Rothman agrees that legislation may be necessary to control the use of dead men's sperm, but he argues that restrictions on retrieving the sperm impose an unnecessary burden on grieving relatives. Nevertheless, he accepts that the procedure is not always appropriate. If the dead man clearly did not want children for instance, if he had had a vasectomy Rothman says he would not retrieve a sperm sample.