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A Look At The Legal And Bioethical Questions Involved In Posthumous Reproduction

Peter L. Zhu, a deceased West Point cadet, now at the center of a bioethical debate.
Peter L. Zhu, a deceased West Point cadet, now at the center of a bioethical debate.
US Military Academy/AP

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Last week, New York Supreme Court Justice John Colangelo ruled that the California-based parents of a 21-year-old killed in a skiing accident could use their late son’s frozen sperm for procreation.

The sperm was retrieved and frozen when Peter L. Zhu was in surgery for organ donation. His parents argued that their son had expressed interest in having children when he was alive, but there was no written consent to posthumous reproduction. The parents said they haven’t decided whether they will use the sperm.

There isn’t much legal precedent for posthumous reproduction, and most court cases involve filings by surviving partners or spouses rather than parents.

This case raises various bioethical and legal questions. While Peter Zhu had said he wanted children while alive, is it fair to assume he would consent to his reproductive materials being used posthumously by his parents? Would this be a fair arrangement for the child, if they were to be born?


Judith Daar, Dean Elect at Chase College of Law at Northern Kentucky University and the chair for the ethics committee at the American Society for Reproductive Medicine; her research interests include the intersection of law, medicine and ethics and reproductive technologies

Arthur Caplan, professor of Medical Ethics at New York University school of medicine; he tweets @ArthurCaplan