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Landmark case allows Israeli family to freeze their dead daughter's eggs

15 August 2011
Appeared in BioNews 620

An Israeli court has granted permission for a family to extract and freeze eggs from their deceased daughter's ovaries.

The family of Chen Aida Ayish, who died aged 17 following a road traffic accident, petitioned the court to allow doctors to extract her eggs after she was declared brain dead days after the accident.

However, while granting the family permission to harvest the eggs, the Kfar Saba Magistrate's Court declined to give an order at that time allowing the family to fertilise them. The family was unable to prove that Ayish had wanted children.

A spokesperson for the Meir Medical Centre, which told the Guardian it has performed the procedure to harvest and freeze the eggs, said: 'This is a unique case, since this is the first time an Israeli court has approved the extraction and freezing of ovarian eggs from a dead woman'.

Irit Rosenblum, a lawyer who founded New Family, an Israeli organisation that promotes family rights, welcomed the decision. 'It's revolutionary... It's great that people have a chance to decide', she said.

Rosenblum told the Guardian that consent was vital to any attempt to fertilise the eggs, which would have enabled the family to freeze the resulting embryos instead, offering better chances of surviving the freezing process.

'We don't know if [Ayish] was concerned about continuation', she said, adding that even though the girl was only 17 she may have expressed a desire to bear children. 'If [the family] can prove the fact that she wanted children, I see no reason why not to allow this'.

On the other hand, Professor Rosamond Rhodes, director of bioethics education at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York said that the crucial point was not whether Ayish wanted children but if she would have wanted them to be born after her death. 'This question is rarely considered by anyone', she said.

It is believed the family has decided against fertilising the eggs should this option become available in the future. The Independent reports the family has ceded to public pressure following criticism by some conservative religious groups in Israel.

Although Israeli courts have ruled on posthumous gamete extraction in the past, most - if not all - of these cases have concerned harvesting sperm post-mortem. In 2007 a court allowed the family of a soldier, Keivan Cohen, shot dead in Gaza in 2002, to extract his sperm to create a child.

Guidelines issued in Israel in 2003 state that only a spouse has an automatic right to extract sperm from their deceased husband and use it to fertilise an egg, unless he had clearly indicated while alive that he did not want it used for artificial insemination. Parents who wish to harvest their son's sperm must obtain a court order.

David Heyd, professor of philosophy at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said: 'The right to procreate belongs to parents. The parents of a dead child cannot use his sperm for their own purpose in becoming grandparents'.

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