There was an interesting and thought-provoking news briefing in the American Urological Association Daily Scope
about a California sperm bank's extending a discount program for military men.
In the Seattle Post Intelligencer (11/19) Now Hear This: Seattle's Military Blog
, Mike Barber wrote that "one of the nation's largest sperm banks, California Cryobank, is extending a discounted program it offered years ago for military men to ensure they can father children in the event of injury or death. The offer this month was extended for another year but potentially indefinitely ... (the offer included) an option for post-mortem sperm retrieval of sperm within 48 hours after death, (although) company officials acknowledge that can be difficult to carry out in a war zone." Barber added that "California Cryobank and others say they also can harvest and store eggs or embryos, although that process is more costly, invasive and not always as reliable as sperm storage."
This issue raises some ethical, moral and financial questions. Are the sperm frozen considered an asset? In which case, does the wife/parents/girlfriend/fiancee inherit them when the person has passed? Obviously if there is a will and there are clear-cut instructions, it would not be an issue, but what if there weren't any will and instructions?
As is commonly the case, most Americans are unprepared for death. According to one legal Web site, 57 percent of Americans do not have a will. Who then owns said sperm? Who decides who gets it? What happens to the offspring produced from the sperm? From a financial standpoint, does the progeny inherit like "normal children."
There was a similar situation we encountered as a department several years ago when a man was on life support. The details escape me at this point. I do remember that there was contention between the parents and the woman involved (I don't remember if it was a wife or a girlfriend/fiancee). The parents did not want to harvest the sperm, the woman did.
In the end, and currently, the stance is to have an actual legally written will as to what to do: to harvest or not, who gets the sperm? Unfortunately, the legal, moral, ethical issues typically fall way behind technological advances. We are presented with issues that provoke discussion, legal upheaval, and self-examination.