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Dead US cadet's parents win right to use his sperm

3 June 2019
Appeared in BioNews 1000

The New York State Supreme Court has granted permission for the parents of a deceased US army cadet to use his frozen sperm to have grandchildren.

Twenty-one-year-old Peter Zhu, a cadet at the West Point US Military Academy, suffered a spinal cord injury while skiing in February 2019 and was declared brain dead a few days later. His parents previously received permission from the same court to recover and store his sperm (see BioNews 990) but could not use it before the recent ruling.

'At this time, the court will place no restrictions on the use to which Peter's parents may ultimately put their son's sperm, including its potential use for procreative purposes,' ruled Justice John Colangelo at the State Supreme Court in Westchester County on 16 May.

Zhu – who was an only child – left no will, nor any express directions about the use of his genetic material in the event of his death. Thus the judge looked at 'his prior actions and statements, in conjunction with statutes designed to serve as surrogates for a decedent's intent'.

The judge found no federal or state laws prohibited him from granting Zhu's parents' request. He cited the Public Health Law statute which 'authorises the donation and therefore disposition of bodily organs and, by extension, bodily fluids even in the absence of a potential decedent's express intent' as well as the Estates, Powers and Trusts Law as guides that in the absence of a spouse, children or legally-nominated decisionmaker, the parents are next-of-kin. 

Assessing Zhu's actions and statements, Justice Colangelo was told that Zhu was a registered organ donor, and also heard testimony from Captain Marc Passmore, who acted as Zhu's mentor at West Point. Captain Passmore shared details of a card completed by Zhu a few months before he died, in which he listed his family goals as to 'have three kids, get married before 30'.

After hearing the evidence Justice Colangelo concluded that 'even though Peter did not expressly state that he wanted his sperm to be used for reproductive purposes, should his parents choose to do so in the future, it would not do violence to his memory'.

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