12 November 2012
ByAppeared in BioNews 681
A recent battle by the parents of a teenager who was critically injured in a car accident to obtain and store his sperm for future use has ended following his death last week, reports The Roanoke Times in the USA.
Jerri and Rufus McGill were unable to successfully obtain a court order in time to allow doctors to extract their son's sperm before his life support system was turned off. Rufus Arthur McGill II, who was known as Sonny, remained in critical condition since a car accident on 14 October in Virginia, which also killed another person. His parents had said they wanted his sperm in order to have grandchildren.
Doctors had told Mr and Mrs McGill they had between 24 and 36 hours to harvest the sperm following death and put it into cryopreservation. But although Sonny's parents said they had found a urologist willing to perform the procedure, obtaining a court order to allow them to do so would have taken days – if granted in the first place.
'The problem is a court order', Mrs McGill said. 'We have to have a court order because of his age. We have called attorneys in Roanoke and they won't touch it with a 10-foot pole'.
At 19-years-old, Sonny was an adult and his parents were no longer considered to be his legal guardians. While they were able to make the decision to end life support, they were not permitted to make decisions pertaining to reproductive choices.
Dr Laurence McCullough, associate director of medicine at the Centre for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at the Baylor College of Medicine, Texas said it was unlikely that Mr and Mrs McGill would have been successful in their legal bid in any event.
'If his wishes regarding having children cannot be reliably identified, the matter is concluded and the parent's request should be refused', he said. 'There is a very strong agreement in bioethics that one's reproductive rights include the right not to procreate'.
Dr Thomas Hafemeister, associate professor of law at the University of Virginia, pointed out the difficulty in defining who is to be the decision-maker when a patient is declared brain dead. 'The decision becomes: Who is the surrogate decision maker? Who can make decisions on behalf of this adult?' he said, adding that the case also raises some complex ethical issues.
'There may be some groups in society who find this improper, creating a life without a parent', Dr Hafemeister said. 'And what are grandparents' rights?'
The Roanoke Times reports that Jerri and Rufus McGill had separated before the incident but remained amicable. Although Sonny had one brother and two half-siblings, it is understood his parents both agreed on their wish to have grandchildren from Sonny's sperm.
'I'm very saddened that I'm not going to have a piece of him with me', Mrs McGill said. 'I do have a younger son that's 17 who always says he's never having kids... that might change, but I'm not guaranteed to have grandchildren from him because what if he meets a woman who is not fertile or... what if he can't have children'.
The hospital where Sonny was treated is also believed to be considering a policy on posthumous sperm retrieval, although it has not confirmed this. 'I think if something can come out of this, as cliche as it sounds, justice has been done', Mrs McGill told The Roanoke Times. 'And then he didn't die in vain'.