Sun, Sep 11, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Harvesting sperm from the dead raises issues

REPERCUSSIONS?One woman's emotional plea for her dead fiance's sperm to be retrieved has created a controversy about laws and ethics involved in the technology


Lee Hsin-yu's (李幸育) four-day battle to harvest sperm from the body of her deceased fiance, Army Captain Sun Chi-hsiang (孫吉祥), has met with great controversy, raising moral and legal questions related to posthumous sperm retrieval.

Sun was killed on Sept. 7 when the armored vehicle he was trying to guide onto a truck accelerated suddenly and crushed him.

When Minister of National Defense Lee Jye (李傑) went to pay his last respects to Sun on Thursday, Sun's fiancee and girlfriend of 12 years hysterically pleaded with the minister, begging authorities to have his sperm preserved but to no avail, as it wasn't in accodrance with current law on posthumous sperm retrieval.

The Department of Health (DOH) reversed its position Friday evening and agreed to Lee Hsin-yu's plea to harvest sperm from her fiance's body so that she could then use in vitro fertilization in an attempt to get pregnant.

The DOH made the decision following an emergency meeting of its officials and experts on legal and medical affairs under the instruction of Premier Frank Hsieh (謝長廷), who allowed posthumous sperm retrieval procedures to go ahead, saying that "the most important thing right now is not to miss the optimum period for sperm retrieval."

The meeting reached the conclusion that since the legislative process of the artificial reproduction bill is still incomplete, the sperm harvesting would not break any law.

In an operation which took 30 minutes on Friday night, the sperm of Sun was successfully retrieved and subsequently stored in the clinic of gynecologist Lee Mao-sheng (李茂盛) in Taichung.

The DOH yesterday said that a decision would be made this week, pending a discussion involving experts in this area. The date of the meeting is still undecided.

This is not the first time that such a case has been brought up. In March 2003, the wife of a Japanese businessman, who had died in Taiwan, asked investigating officials and doctors to perform posthumous sperm collection. Sperm was subsequently successfully retrieved, but after the Japanese widow failed to get pregnant, the sperm was destroyed.

In the US in 1997, 82 requests for posthumous sperm retrieval were made, with the earliest case of posthumous sperm retrieval being performed in Los Angeles in 1980.

While technically there may be nothing in the way of posthumous sperm retrieval, cases like this have clear ethical implications.

Su Yiu-chen (蘇友辰), a senior member of the Human Rights Association, said that "while the country has been moved by the depth of her emotion and her ties with her deceased fiance, it is against the law of nature, and lots of ethical repercussions will result."

Shu expressed that there was an ethical responsibility to be paid to the child, whom he felt would "have an incomplete personality, if conceived, particularly when the child came to know how they came into being."

Shu also brought up the possibility that owing to the circumstances of the sperm retrieval, the child's health would "forever be the burden of the child, the mother and their family."

Shu said that the laws of nature have always been "to be born, to age, to weaken and to die," and that a more perfect love would follow the course of nature.

From a different legal standpoint, however, the Taiwanese Society for Reproductive Medicine expressed that provided proper thought had been given, no law should infringe on the rights of single women to conceive, and it suggested that the department of health should take a new perspective in making laws relating to human fertilization.

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