From Beyond the Grave

Fathering Children After Death

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By Father John Flynn, LC

ROME, JUNE 19, 2011 ( A rash of recent cases involving the use of frozen sperm to conceive children after the death of the father has drawn attention this increasingly widespread practice.

One case was that of Jocelyn and Mark Edwards in New South Wales, Australia. They were due to sign consent forms to start IVF treatment, but the husband died in an accident the day prior to the signing, the Sydney Morning Herald reported, May 24.

The wife obtained a court order to conserve her husband’s sperm and has now won a court action that will give her access to it. State laws prohibit this unless there is express consent for the use of sperm after death, but the NSW Supreme Court accepted the wife’s testimony that a couple of years ago her husband declared that if anything were to happen to him she should go ahead and have his child.

An article posted June 3 on the Time Magazine Web site commented that it is not uncommon for soldiers who are being deployed on combat missions to freeze sperm so that if they die their wives can still have a child.

As circumstances can differ a great deal questions are being asked about whether this practice should be allowed. The article referred to a case in Israel where the parents of a son who died last year want to have a grandchild using their son’s sperm.

The son, Ohad Ben-Yaakov, was not married or in a relationship but the parents want to use a surrogate mother.


A similar case was recently reported in Russia. Lamara Kelesheva’s son died of cancer, but with sperm collected before he started chemotherapy his mother used surrogate mothers to conceive two sets of twins, Russia Today reported June 7.

According to a report published by the Russian newspaper Pravda on June 10 five attempts at conception failed in the two years after her son’s death. Keleseva went ahead with one last effort and two surrogate mothers were uses simultaneously. Both became pregnant and the women gave birth to the grandchildren on January 6th and 8th.

The turmoil created as a result of this led to the breakup of her marriage and Kelesheva is now engaged in a legal battle to obtain recognition that she is the mother of these children and her deceased son the father.

The Moscow Civil Registry Office refused to register the newborns, and she is now appealing to the Moscow Municipal Court. Russian law limits the recourse to surrogate mothers to a husband and wife couple.

“All these exercises in biomechanics ultimately lead to this very ambiguous situation when you can’t really tell the difference between a son and grandson,” pro-life activist Andrey Khvesyuk, told Russia Today.

A different twist on the situation took place in the case of a 57-year-old man, who can’t be named for legal reasons, who had stored his sperm in 1999 because of fears that medical treatment could render him infertile.

After the breakup of the man’s marriage his ex-wife used the money from the divorce settlement to conceive two children using the man’s sperm, the Telegraph newspaper reported May 29. She forged his signature on the authorization forms and the man only found out about it three years later. A daughter and a son were born in 2001 and 2003 respectively.

Since the discovery he has spend a large sum of money on legal battles with his ex-wife and has limited access to his children.


While the children of deceased fathers will grow up knowing who their father was there are many children conceived through IVF who are without this information.

Newsweek looked into this situation in an article dated Feb. 25. In general in the United States children conceived through sperm donors have no information to who their father is and in many cases the records of the donors is destroyed.

As increasing numbers of these children reach maturity they are pressuring to change this situation. The article recounted the efforts of someone referred to as Alana S. who has created the organization for children, families and donors.

Some countries have legislated to require information to be available about sperm and ova donors, but the IVF industry in the United States remains largely unregulated.

Alana S., who is now 24 years old, said many donor-conceived children regard themselves as some kind of “freaks of nature.”

Even in countries where there is legislation the situation is far from perfect. This was evident in a report published Feb. 10 by an Australian Senate committee titled, “Donor Conception Practices in Australia.”

The report stated that there are inconsistent state and territory approaches regarding the information that donor conceived people may access.

Another concern is about the risk of donor conceived people inadvertently forming consanguine relationships due to their lack of access to donor information. Not only can this increase the risk of serious genetic disease but given the stigma attached to such relationships it could have significant social consequences, the report warned.

The committee received several submissions on the theme of limiting the number of families a donor assists. According to information from the Victorian Infertility Counsellors Group it is not unusual for donor conceived people to discover that they have up to twenty genetic half-siblings.


Other submissions commented that there are inconsistent approaches between the states and territories regarding registration of donors. This means there is no way of accurately knowing or controlling the number of families a particular donor assists.

Another issue relates to a lack of data management that make it difficult to ensure clinics are complying with any limits on donations. One example given in the report was about a clinic importing sperm from the U.S. that had been assured it would only by for use by that clinic. Later it was discovered that sperm from the same donor had also been imported by a clinic in NSW and used by a number of families in that state.

Even though recent changes to laws make it easier for donor children to obtain information about their father many of those now reaching adulthood are unable to access the records as a result of past commitments made to donors to maintain their anonymity.

The report quoted testimony from Miss Narelle Grech, who explained the personal impact this has had on her.

“I cannot begin to describe how dehumanising and powerless I am to know that the name and details about my biological father and my entire paternal family sit somewhere in a filing cabinet…with no means to access it,” she said. “Information about my own family, my roots, my identity, I am told I have no right to know,” she added.

In Canada such situations were described as discriminatory and unconstitutional by British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Elaine Adair.

The judge ruled in favor of a lawsuit brought by Olivia Pratten, who sought to get the same rights as adopted children, the Vancouver Sun reported, May 19.

A child is not something owed to someone, but a gift, the Catechism of the Catholic Church points out in no. 2378. Neither should a child be considered as a piece of property, “an idea to which an alleged ‘right to a child’ would lead,” it pointed out.

Among the many serious moral objections to IVF is that is has led to children being treated as commodities, no matter how well-intentioned the original desire for a child may have been. The consequences of this are now being graphically played out in the courts and in families.

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