Besides helping infertile couples create a baby, “it would certainly also provide a means for a dying person to feel his own self ‘living on’ or alternatively for passing his attributes on, particularly if lacking any genetically linked offspring of his own,” Noyes said.
According to Hodson and Parker, evidence suggests that sperm collected after death can result in pregnancies and healthy children, even when retrieved 48 hours after death.
Noyes added that, once collected, frozen sperm has a long shelf-life. But ethical questions could emerge over time.
“One question that comes to mind is, what if no one wants the particular sperm — how long should it be stored?” Noyes said. “Another question might be — should there be a maximum duration on the storage on all samples or is crossing multiple generations fine? Once frozen, sperm is good ‘forever’ — if not for decades, or even centuries.”
And of course there is the issue of the donor’s surviving family, she said.
Just as is the case for solid organs, families could still have the right to refuse sperm donation after death, the British team said, and expectations about the status of a child born from the use of such sperm would have to be clarified before donation.
“The important point is that considerations of the family, including a romantic partner surviving the deceased man, do not justify a blanket ban on the use of sperm collected after death, especially if the donor has specified a desire to donate,” Hodson and Parker wrote.
But Noyes noted that rapid advances in technology are complicating matters.
“Traditionally, sperm donation has mostly been an anonymous process,” she said, so children conceived with donor sperm had a tough time finding out who their biological father was. But with the advent of genetic-testing platforms, such as 23andMe and AncestryDNA, “anonymity can no longer be guaranteed,” Noyes said.
And once a child conceived via donated sperm reaches the age of majority, she added, would he or she have any say in whether their father’s sperm could be used to create half-siblings?
All of this means that the ethical landscape around sperm donation continues to evolve, Noyes said. “I am curious to watch this new chapter unfold and see how it will impact the people and the process of adoption and gamete donation,” she said.