Opinions vary about ownership rights to the gametes that make up a present or future baby. We recently discussed the rights a man has to a currently uterinely located fetus, if the mother wants to terminate the pregnancy. In the U.S., laws vary by state as to the necessary involvement of both gamete donors in putting a baby up for adoption, whether and under what circumstances the father needs to give consent. The general consensus on sperm donation is that an anonymous donor cedes any rights over the resulting offspring (although things have occasionally gotten messy with known sperm donors). (That came out wrong.) (That did, too.)
But those situations generally involve one woman, whose custody of said offspring since its conception leaves little question as to where the egg came from and who has maternal rights. A recent event in Israel has the potential to muddle that somewhat. After 17-year-old Chen Aida Ayash was struck by a car and killed, her family lobbied for–and received–permission to harvest and freeze her eggs.
So: Who has the rights to your gametes once you’re dead? A sperm or egg donor donates willingly, and willingly surrenders their rights to those cells. Two people who conceive more-or-less face to face usually do so willingly, and they usually get to at least submit an opinion on the fate of those cells. Ayash wasn’t able to consent to the harvest, but her next of kin were able to on her behalf–do they also have full rights to the fate of those eggs? The judge wouldn’t allow them to fertilize the harvested eggs without proof that she actually wanted to have children, but even evidence that she wanted kids before wouldn’t have proved that she would have consented now, had she been alive to be asked. (The Telegraph reports that the family has decided not to fertilize the eggs after all.) And would she have been more or less willing to make a baby that she wasn’t actually going to have? And since she’s dead, does it matter?
I had a series of serious discussions with two friends of mine about using my eggs to make a baby for them. (You should have met these guys. The kid would have been stellar.) I don’t want to have any kids of my own, a fact that my parents know and that disappoints them greatly. (My mom cried when I told her.) For that matter, I’m also an organ donor. So I have an established history of, yes, I’m okay with using my ingredients for someone else’s kid; no, I don’t have any plans for them myself; and no, I don’t mind someone messing with my innards when I’m not using them anymore.
But if, following my death by spectacular skydiving accident, my parents chose to harvest whatever eggs survived the impact and make themselves a grandkid, I would (theoretically) be upset. (Note: My parents would never do this.) I wouldn’t be around to know about it, so they’ve got that going for them, but if I had awareness I would be angry that the decision was made when I had no way to consent to it. For some reason, I’d be perfectly happy with my heart going to save a life, but not with my eggs going to create one. And for my parents, no less.
Actually, no: It would creep me out more if it were my parents. Donate my ovaries to a needy party along with all the other organs that aren’t doing me any good, and I’m for it. Hand them over to my parents to make a baby out of them, and I’m agin’ it. For whatever reason.
Maybe it’s because they’d be making “my kid” without asking me, rather than someone making their own kid using my raw materials. Maybe it’s the concern that they’d be trying to make a stand-in for me, which couldn’t be healthy for them and probably wouldn’t be great for the kid. Maybe it’s just that I don’t know who they’d choose to provide the sperm, and I don’t want some kid running around with my name on him who’s a little asshole because his father was a dick. But unless you’d also want to keep my corneas in a case on the mantle to remember me by, I think it’s best that you pass my eggs on to someone who needs them.
Also: Don’t keep my corneas in a case on the mantle to remember me by. That’s gross.