The desperate pleas of Li Hsin-yu (李幸育) -- the widow of Army Captain Sun Chi-hsiang (孫吉祥) who died last week in an armored-vehicle accident -- to retrieve sperm from her husband's body for the purpose of in vitro fertilization, which were refused by the Department of Health, elicited a lot of public sympathy and support. As a result, events took a drastic turn, literally overnight, when the department finally okayed the process. The department said in a statement that there is no law regulating and therefore prohibiting in vitro fertilization using the sperm of a deceased person. This saga provides some food for thought from many different perspectives, including the cultural, legal and ethical aspects of the matter.
The biggest problem highlighted in this chain of events is, of course, that there is currently no law regulating this type of in vitro fertilization.
In reality, a draft of the relevant law has been in limbo for a very long time, awaiting approval by the Legislative Yuan, along with countless other important bills. Ironically, while the nation's lawmakers have been too pre-occupied to complete the legislative process and enact the law, many have had the time to accompany Li on her visits to government officials seeking special approval for her request. If these lawmakers genuinely had sympathy for Li's plight, they surely should know that they can help even more people in similar positions simply by doing the work they're getting paid for and passing the appropriate bill. Also, had the bill been passed, Li would not have had to run around in utter desperation to beg for special government approval for her request.
One of the reasons cited by an official for refusing Li's request was that it was at odds with the spirit of the relevant bill, implying that if it had been passed, post mortem sperm retrieval would have been prohibited. There are no legitimate grounds for this argument. A bill is only a bill, after all, and has no legal effect until enacted. In reality, what departmental opposition to Li's request really reflected was an unacceptable paternalistic mentality on the part of the government.
The reasons they cited were, while well-intentioned, primarily based on their own cultural and moral opinions and values. These included that it would be difficult for Li to raise the child alone and asking whether it would be fair to the child to grow up without a father.
While the extra-legal concerns and considerations raised by the department were legitimate, in the absence of appropriate legal guidelines it still had to respect and give due consideration to Li's wishes, rather than opposing her request citing legal grounds that do not exist.
Of all the extra-legal ethical and moral issues raised by Li's case, the biggest one is probably whether a child born under these circumstances does not solely serve the self-interest of adults. These include more than just money and material goods, but also a sense of emotional comfort and peace of mind in a time of grieving. This in turns raises the question of whether a cooling-off period is advisable before an emotional and grieving adult makes such a major decision. It also leads to the matter of the wishes of the deceased. Many countries where laws exist to regulate post mortem sperm retrieval require either the consent of the deceased before his death, or strong circumstantial evidence proving his consent.