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Widow begins fight to keep husband's sperm

9 December 2013
Appeared in BioNews 734

A woman is seeking an extension in the storage of her late husband's sperm at the UK's High Court.

Elisabeth Warren's husband, Warren Brewer, died of a brain tumour in February 2012. Mr Brewer stored his sperm prior to receiving radiotherapy treatment and later agreed to allow his wife to make use of it in the event of his death. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) declared that according to the law Mr Brewer's sperm could not be stored beyond April 2015, however.

Under UK law, it is possible to extend the storage period for gametes up to a maximum statutory period of up to 55 years. Mr Brewer had his sperm stored in 2005 and signed several forms agreeing to the continued storage of his sperm. However, Mr Brewer died before a specific consent form required by the HFEA could be signed.

After being told by the HFEA that her husband's consent will expire by April 2012, Mrs Warren was given an extension until April 2015. She now seeking an order that it would be lawful to keep her late husband's sperm in storage for her to use at a later date. Mrs Warren says that she is not ready to start a family at this stage.

'I do not know what will happen in the future, and I would like to have the choice left open to be able to have my husband's child - as I know he would have wanted', Mrs Warren said.

Her solicitor, James Lawford Davies, who is representing Mrs Warren, said the 2009 regulations create injustice since current rules are designed for living men and do not make room for posthumous fertility decisions.

'Common sense dictates that this situation is wrong', Mr Lawford Davies said. 'Beth could have a child next year, but would not be allowed to have a sibling for them in three years time'.

'We are asking the court to address these problems in the hope that other women will not be faced with the same difficulties in the future'.

In a statement, the HFEA said that the law on the storage of gametes is clear and that it has no discretion to extend the storage period beyond that to which Mr Brewer gave written consent.

This will leave Mrs Warren in the situation of either having to store her husband's samples overseas or to go ahead with IVF and then cryopreserve the embryos, which would give her more time to decide whether or not to have a baby.

According to BBC News, Mrs Warren's case will renew the debate over the ethics of posthumous conception. Mrs Warren's case will be heard next year.

Grieving wife: I need more time to decide whether to have my dead husband's baby
Daily Mail |  4 December 2013
'Let me keep my dead husband's sperm'
BBC News |  4 December 2013
Widow risks losing late husband's sperm unless she has IVF within weeks
Daily Telegraph |  5 December 2013
Young woman fights for the right to use her late husband's sperm
Lawford Davies Denoon (press release) (pdf) |  4 December 2013
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The permissive approach of the Israeli courts to allow posthumous conception is ethically justified and even commendable. By choosing 'a sperm with a past', a woman guarantees her prospective child a known genetic origin, as well as an opportunity to benefit from the love and the support of grandparents and an extended family...
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