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Sperm lawfully obtained from dying man unable to give consent

1 October 2007
Appeared in BioNews 427

The parents of an Iowan man on life support and unable to give consent have been made to seek a court declaration that extracting his sperm for his fiancee's future use was lawful. Daniel Christy, 23, was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident and was flown to Iowa's University Hospital where he was subsequently placed on life support with the prognosis of no recovery. His fiancee, Amy Kruse, with whom Daniel had planned to have children, requested that his sperm be extracted before he died so that she could fulfil their plans in the future. 'I know Daniel wanted to have two kids. We talked about it even before we were engaged', she said.

As Daniel was unmarried, his parents, Thomas and Sherry Christy, gave their consent for the procedure, only for it to be refused by the hospital's ethics committee. The hospital had not yet extracted sperm under Iowa's Uniform Anatomical Gift Act and were unsure if semen was covered under organ donation rules permitting parts of a human body to be donated. 'They had never done it this way before. The act applies to harvesting eyes or organs for transplant into existing life, not to create new life', said Lori Klockau, the lawyer acting for the family.

The family sought an emergency declaration before Daniel died that the procedure was lawful. A Johnson County Court judge ruled in their favour holding that, 'under the act, an anatomical gift, including the gift of semen, can be made by the donor, or, if the donor did not refuse to make the gift, by the donor's parents following the donor's death'. Speaking outside the courtroom, Amy Kruse said that she was 'confident in the decision I've made. I know this is something Daniel would have wanted'.

However, the ordeal did not end there for the family. The hospital did not have the facilities to store the sperm and refused to perform the extraction unless storage could be found. The Christys were then given a website address and told to arrange the storage themselves. The hospital's Center for Advanced Reproductive Care refused to perform IVF using Daniel's sperm on the grounds that the donor must give their consent, even with the ruling that parental consent was sufficient. Fortunately for Kruse and the Christy's, they found a facility in Wisconsin that was willing to take the sperm and the procedure went ahead successfully.

Speaking about the case, Lori Klockue said the judgement could have implications for other Iowan families and that it also revealed the inadequacy of Iowa's laws on reproductive technologies. 'Our reproductive technology has just come so far and our laws are lagging behind', said Klockue. Professor Grossman, of Hofstra University, said that the novel ethical issues that were raised in this scenario made for a difficult decision: 'I think it's not common enough for people to spend much time thinking about, so I think it's fair to say there's no consensus what the right way to deal with this is'.

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Family Wants to Save Dying Son's Sperm
KCRG News |  15 September 2007
Judge: Family can give son's semen to fiancee
Iowa City press-Citizen |  13 September 2007
Racing against time, man's sperm harvested before he dies
The Gazette |  15 September 2007
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