Consent, and life after death

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.

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46 Responses

  1. igglanova
    igglanova August 13, 2011 at 7:16 pm |

    What a weird case. I can’t see any logical reason to make a law against something like this, but I still find it creepy and…greedy. I mean this is not a life-saving measure here; the world doesn’t need more children in it this badly.

    Would make a lovely family story to tell the kid when it’s older, I’m sure.

  2. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 13, 2011 at 7:19 pm |

    I’d be horrified because it would mean that my parents were blatantly disgregarding wishes that I had clearly expressed to them. Thus it’s a personal betrayal, and upsetting in a way that organ harvesting that you consented to is not.

  3. Annaleigh
    Annaleigh August 13, 2011 at 7:28 pm |

    I can kinda sorta understand and empathize with hypothetical parents of a dead person if the person who died was their only child and they have no other hope of additional children or future grandchildren. Kinda. Sorta.

    I would be upset if it were my eggs being harvested because I would consider it cruel to bring a potential child of mine into the world knowing that I was dead. That, and my child would only have one grandparent on my side of the family, and she’s in no condition to raise a grandchild on her own right now. But I’d feel empathy for my mother because I am her only child and if I died right now, she would never have any grandkids.

  4. Aydan
    Aydan August 13, 2011 at 7:40 pm |

    This strikes me as really creepy. I’m trying to tease out why exactly it bothers me on a level that organ donation doesn’t. Is it because one consents to organ donation ahead of time, and this was body part harvesting without consent? Or is it because my heart doesn’t have the potential to generate new life, while my eggs do, and one of those things seems a lot more Frankensteinian than the other? But, assuming it were possible, I’d have no problem being cloned after my death– I wonder if that’s because cloning me would essentially be giving my parents another child, while harvesting my eggs would be my child?

    Also: Don’t keep my corneas in a case on the mantle to remember me by. That’s gross.
    What, no “you have your mother’s eyes” jokes?

  5. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 13, 2011 at 7:45 pm |

    There’s also the feelings of the hypothetical child to consider. Wouldn’t that be an awfully creepy way to grow up? Well, you see, grandma and grandpa really missed your mom, so we harvested eggs from her dead body and that’s how you were born.

    It seems like something out of a Virginia Andrews novel, honestly.

  6. Complicated
    Complicated August 13, 2011 at 7:49 pm |

    I have a right off the bat, not thought out very much comment (so I may change my mind later, I guess):

    I feel like the default should be that this is ok. But if she had explicitly said that she thought her parents were terrible parents who should never be allowed to have another child, or that she never wanted to inflict her genes on a child because of some genetic disorder, then I’d feel differently. Absent any indications like that, I don’t think this is all that different than the parents choosing to have another child on their own after their daughter died. Its their business, not ours.

    Chen’s parents created her out of nothing without her consent. As long as she’s alive as an adult she has a right to make her own decisions against her parents’ wishes. But once she’s dead, she’s not around anymore to worry about. If her parents could reasonably have another baby on their own, I think they can reasonably have another baby using her egg, and I don’t see anything morally wrong with it. I think its basically the same as any other situation where a couple wants to have a baby and maybe needs extra help and expense to do it – the issue is will they be good parents and is it wrong to put so much expense into in vitro when there are orphans in the world already. The issue is not am I upsetting this dead body by using its eggs. (But then, I also think that organ donation after death should not be optional, assuming the right systems are in place to make sure no one is trying to speed up a death to get organs.)

    I’m curious – those of you who are upset by this idea, do you believe in an afterlife? Or does the idea upset you even if you wouldn’t exist anymore to witness it?

  7. igglanova
    igglanova August 13, 2011 at 7:51 pm |

    Another aspect of this that is creeping me out so much is the way the family seems to take for granted that this body somehow belongs to them, especially given that she was 1. a woman, 2. a minor, for reasons that are likely obvious to a feminist audience.

    Plus, the utter desperation indicated by the act of harvesting gametes from a corpse. But hey, maybe it’s just cheaper to not have to pay the dead girl.

  8. Complicated
    Complicated August 13, 2011 at 7:54 pm |

    My parents wouldn’t do this because they’re too old to want to take care of a baby. But suppose I had a sister who couldn’t use her own eggs for some reason, and wanted a baby. And suppose I like her and trust her and believe she’ll be a good mother, so there are no issues on that account. As long as I’m alive, I’m not crazy about the idea of donating eggs to her because I’m afraid I’d feel emotionally connected to the baby in such a way that it might cause problems in family dynamics later. I don’t know, maybe I’d come around to the idea, but all the concerns I’d have would have to do with me having to be around watching someone else raise “my” child. If I died, I don’t think any of those concerns matter anymore.

  9. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 13, 2011 at 7:56 pm |

    @ Complicated – But parents do not own their children, especially not their adult children. So why should the parents have any inherant right to harvest their daughter’s eggs?

  10. Complicated
    Complicated August 13, 2011 at 8:01 pm |

    CassandraSays:
    @ Complicated – But parents do not own their children, especially not their adult children. So why should the parents have any inherant right to harvest their daughter’s eggs?

    Depends on the place, but in the US a 17 year old is still legally considered a child. And adult or not, if someone’s incapacitated like in a coma, the next of kin, in this case the parents, do make medical decisions for them. She’s dead, she isn’t there anymore, she can’t decide anything anymore. The next of kin is usually the person who takes over, who deals with the body and the burial and inherits the possessions.

    I guess, to me, the concept of egg harvesting seems pretty neutral. It can be good or bad depending on how good or bad the parents will be, etc. In the absence of any other information, it seems like a private decision to be made by the next of kin, hopefully taking into account what they knew of the dead person’s wishes and beliefs, just like the decisions about burial and what to do with their stuff. I don’t see any reason for the law to step in unless there is a dispute between close family or some evidence that the deceased had wishes that the family is not following, like a will.

  11. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 13, 2011 at 8:03 pm |

    To me it seems really invasive and to be part and parcel of the whole idea that women are our reproductive systems and exist in order to make babies. I feel OK about organ donation, but this bothers me, and it’s not because of any concerns about having a hypothetical child that I don’t/can’t know. It’s specifically the idea of harvesting a woman’s reproductive bits that bothers me – it’s like she isn’t really their child so much as just a vehicle to create grandchildren.

  12. Aydan
    Aydan August 13, 2011 at 8:09 pm |

    Complicated: I’m curious – those of you who are upset by this idea, do you believe in an afterlife? Or does the idea upset you even if you wouldn’t exist anymore to witness it?

    I believe in an afterlife, but I don’t think that’s informing my decision.

    Maybe part of it is that I, at the moment, do not want to have children and do not intend to have them, so this would feel like me somehow being forced to have children (since genetically it/they would be) without my consent.

  13. igglanova
    igglanova August 13, 2011 at 8:14 pm |

    While it is true that the next of kin are given decision-making power over a person’s burial and property, societies do draw a line somewhere. You’d be hard pressed, for example, to find people anywhere in the world who think using a dead person’s skull like a puppet is within the rights of the family members, to head immediately to the logical extreme. Human dignity is an important concept to many people, even when the human is just a body. (Though there is obvious room for disagreement as to whether harvesting eggs and producing little zombie children from them [I kid, I kid, a child is a child however conceived and all that] is an insult to the dignity of the person, or a basically ‘meh’ occurence.)

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you FTR, Complicated. I’m just interested in exploring this more.

  14. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 13, 2011 at 8:15 pm |

    Also, the idea that everyone has the right to create a child using their own bodies – sure. But the idea that they also have the right to create a child by using bits of someone else’s body without the permission of the other person? That I’m not ethically comfortable with at all.

  15. piny
    piny August 13, 2011 at 9:03 pm |

    You don’t have to believe in an afterlife to believe that people are attached to their bodies and care about what happens to them after they’re dead. That’s why we don’t force cadaver or organ donation on unwilling donors. It’s why most people condemn the desecration of corpses and why most religions have specific rules for disposing of them. It’s why you probably aren’t okay with that young woman’s body being used for a number of other unsavory purposes, even though she is no longer there in it.

    That body held a human life. The history of that specific human life is why the parents want a specific part to take away.

    This case is sickening because it redefines that young woman’s body as inanimate property that passes to the next living relative upon her death–absent any bequest. That’s a new and unusual level of dispersonalization, and it depends on an inhumane sense of our ability to project our thoughts beyond the present. It has evil implications, and those extend to bodies still living. I don’t know how her minor status played into this. I don’t really want to know.

  16. CassandraSays
    CassandraSays August 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm |

    @ Piny – Thanks for saying that. I was feeling like I was going to be called a superstitious fool if I said it, but to me this does feel like desecration of a body (in addition to the other problems with consent and attitudes towards women’s reproductive capacities).

    I have a very strong sense that the bodies of the dead should be tampered with as little as possible, and it’s been there as long as I can remember. Where did I get that idea? I’m not sure. I grew up all over the place – the UK, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Thailand, Singapore, America – and I’m not sure if I got it from my parents or picked it up somewhere else along the way. But to me the idea of anything being done to a corpse that goes beyond the most basic things of what needs to be done to prepare the body for burial is viscerally horrifying. Yes, I know there’s no person in there any more. But once there was, and I have this strange but very strong sense that if societies are OK with desecration of dead bodies, ie with corpses being treated as if we can do whatever we want with them and treat them like any other sort of raw materials, then that somehow extends out towards how we view the bodies of people who are still alive. So when you add in the way this particular case ties in to how women’s bodies and in particular our reproductive bits are treated while we’re alive…yeah, it’s triggering all kinds of threatened feelings, and protective feelings towards the body of the young woman in question. I feel like in death at least she should be safe from society deciding that it has the right to do whatever it feels like with her body, and it makes me sad that she isn’t.

  17. Bunny
    Bunny August 13, 2011 at 9:14 pm |

    Hmmm…

    I feel somewhat creeped out by this, but I am having difficulty articulating why. Maybe because organ donations after death fulfil a need – people will die if replacement organs are not provided – whereas no one has ever died from not-having-grandkids (although to hear my mum speak you’d think otherwise!).

    The fact of the harvesting being done on behalf of family as well is unsettling. Perhaps if their daughter dearly wanted to have children when she was older and never got the chance, I could sort of, kinda understand the impulse. But even then, it seems to me like harvesting her genetic material to do so after her death misses the entire reason most people tend to want children in the first place.

  18. feministadoptee
    feministadoptee August 13, 2011 at 9:32 pm |

    ” In the U.S., laws vary by state as to the necessary involvement of both gamete donors in putting a baby up for adoption”

    Can we please not call biological parents “gamete donors”? My first mother is not a “gamete donor”. That’s a complete erasure of a person who carried a pregnancy to term and decided (or more likely, was coerced) to surrender their child to adoption.

    It’s just respectful. Derail over.

  19. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 13, 2011 at 9:49 pm |

    I see a big difference between a family’s consenting to organ donation from a deceased minor child in order to save (or drastically improve) existing lives, and wanting to extract their deceased daughter’s eggs in order to create a grandchild, without any indication that she would have wanted that. It just seems creepy to me, for all the reasons others have stated.

    According to what I’ve been able to find, there’s no precedent for this. However, it’s apparently quite common to extract a dead man’s sperm at the request of his surviving wife or partner, to be used for an equivalent purpose. And there was at least one case where someone sought permission to have the sperm of their dead son extracted in order to try to have a grandchild conceived with a surrogate. (The article didn’t make clear whether permission was granted.) Do people feel any differently about those situations?

  20. Aydan
    Aydan August 13, 2011 at 10:02 pm |

    DonnaL:
    According to what I’ve been able to find, there’s no precedent for this.However, it’s apparently quite common to extract a dead man’s sperm at the request of his surviving wife or partner, to be used for an equivalent purpose.And there was at least one case where someone sought permission to have the sperm of their dead son extracted in order to try to have a grandchild conceived with a surrogate.(The article didn’t make clear whether permission was granted.) Do people feel any differently about those situations?

    No. The societal context is different for those cases, because men aren’t pressured to reproduce nearly as much as women are, but it’s still creepy no matter what sex the body is or what gametes it contains. I’m disturbed that this is a regularly done thing with sperm.

  21. SunlessNick
    SunlessNick August 13, 2011 at 11:15 pm |

    Actually, no: It would creep me out more if it were my parents… Maybe it’s because they’d be making “my kid” without asking me, rather than someone making their own kid using my raw materials.

    The point of organ donation is the idea that the donated tissue stops being part of your body and becomes part of the recipient’s – an idea that would also hold for donated ovaries. With your family harvesting eggs to make a kid, the point of it is that it’s your body part, being used for a purpose you didn’t “fulfill” in life – so yes, I can easily see why it would be creepier.

    Do people feel any differently about [when it's done with sperm]?

    I agree with Aydan.

  22. Queen Maeve
    Queen Maeve August 14, 2011 at 5:00 am |

    I think it’s ethically completely wrong to take eggs or sperm from someone after their death unless they specifically asked you to do that when they were alive. I think in the cases where it’s a young, unpartnered person and their parents are doing the taking it’s way creepier BECAUSE it’s their parents. I would still see it as ethically wrong if a grieving spouse begged to keep gametes from their partner so they could have a child together posthumously, but I would feel so much sympathy and basically no squick about that even though it would still be wrong without prior consent. The parents? 95% squick. Especially in this case where it was a teenager. It’s very sad but it reads to me like they believe they owned this woman’s body and her sexuality and her fecundity and that’s completely fucked up.

  23. 2ndnin
    2ndnin August 14, 2011 at 5:05 am |

    I don’t really see a difference between sperm and eggs, in both we are taking something from the dead where we have no consent or knowledge of their wishes. As for societal pressure being different I think that really depends a lot. I’m at the age where everyone asks if I want to settle down and have kids, my mother makes it a topic every time I see her and no one respects boundaries over it. While I don’t get the biological clock type stuff it’s pretty much assumed that kids should arrive.

  24. Nyara
    Nyara August 14, 2011 at 5:36 am |

    CassandraSays:
    To me it seems really invasive and to be part and parcel of the whole idea that women are our reproductive systems and exist in order to make babies. I feel OK about organ donation, but this bothers me, and it’s not because of any concerns about having a hypothetical child that I don’t/can’t know. It’s specifically the idea of harvesting a woman’s reproductive bits that bothers me – it’s like she isn’t really their child so much as just a vehicle to create grandchildren.

    Yeah…I was trying to figure out why this whole concept bothers me so much, and I think that’s a huge part of it.

  25. Complicated
    Complicated August 14, 2011 at 7:46 am |

    igglanova:
    While it is true that the next of kin are given decision-making power over a person’s burial and property, societies do draw a line somewhere.You’d be hard pressed, for example, to find people anywhere in the world who think using a dead person’s skull like a puppet is within the rights of the family members, to head immediately to the logical extreme.Human dignity is an important concept to many people, even when the human is just a body.

    I disagree that people and their families aren’t allowed to bequeath their bodies for all sorts of weird things. Have you read The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers? On top of that, what about that travelling bodies museum exhibit? Someone agreed to have their loved ones bodies articulated like a statue for people to gawp at. What about the people who’s bodies are donated to science to be crash test dummies? What about the human skull that was sent up in one of the space shuttles by NASA with a creepy plastic face stuck over it? (I’ve also been reading Mary Roach’s latest book, Packing For Mars).

    If someone hated their family member and was messing with them on purpose, then I wouldn’t like them keeping the skull around to use as a puppet or whatever. But if the deceased family member had that kind of clowning personality and would have liked it that way, then I don’t have a problem with it. In any case, it doesn’t affect anything real – its like getting upset about mormons baptizing dead people. Its a little insensitive but it doesn’t really do anything to the dead person if you don’t believe in their religion in the first place. So, I don’t like the idea of someone “desecrating” a dead body if their intentions are bad, but that’s because I don’t like the bad intentions. If their intentions are ok, then I don’t really have a problem with “descrating” bodies at all, because the person is dead and it doesn’t matter in any real way (assuming things are clean enough that no diseases are being spread by a rotting body, of course).

    For comparison, I hate the idea of bodies being buried in the ground in a coffin and people visiting the gravesite and talking to the dead body. I think its totally creepy – it seems much better to me to be cremated or buried without a coffin so as to quickly join back into the cycle of life. I think that mausoleums are even more creepy. But I wouldn’t stop someone from burying their family member that way if it works for them.

  26. Complicated
    Complicated August 14, 2011 at 8:01 am |

    This case is sickening because it redefines that young woman’s body as inanimate property that passes to the next living relative upon her death–absent any bequest.

    Suppose she was an organ donor. Would it be better if her eggs went into one of those organ donation registries to go to some random person, rather than to her parents?

    That’s why we don’t force cadaver or organ donation on unwilling donors.

    I actually think we should at least have an opt-out system instead of an opt-in system. (With, of course, the appropriate checks in place to make sure it isn’t being abused in some way.)

    It’s why you probably aren’t okay with that young woman’s body being used for a number of other unsavory purposes, even though she is no longer there in it.

    I’m not ok with it, but if you stop and think about it logically its interesting to try to explicitly justify why its not ok. I’d say the main reason is that the idea is disturbing to most people on a visceral level, and they’d be caused emotional distress if they knew it could happen to them or their loved ones, even though the body itself doesn’t suffer anything. But suppose some terminally ill woman specifically put in her will that her husband was welcome to use their dead body for those purposes, because they loved him and wanted it or whatever. Then, well, it seems pretty icky to me, but its none of my business.

    So I think it comes down to whether consent should be assumed or not. We usually don’t assume consent for doing anything with the body after death, but I believe some countries do assume organ donation is ok unless you opt-out?

    If this young woman had specifically consented to this procedure before she died, would you all be ok with it? I’m assuming yes, but if no I’d like to hear why. So then the issue is whether consent can be given by her family members or not. For organ donation, I believe consent can be given by family members if the deceased hasn’t specified one way or the other. I feel like the only difference here is that everyone knows organ donation is a possibility, while this egg harvesting might not have occurred to this woman before she died at all, so its hard to know what she would have thought of it. I think if she would have been ok with it then its fine, and who are we to know that better than her family?

    I guess I’m devil’s advocate here, but I’m thinking how much people were creeped out by organ donation back when it first started becoming an option. Some people still choose to go with their gut feeling of “creepy” and refuse to donate organs after death, which means lots of people’s lives aren’t saved that could be. I’m also thinking how much people used to be creeped out by the idea of doctors practicing surgery on dead bodies, to the point where doctors had almost no way to know what they were doing before practicing on a live person. Nowadays we take it for granted that doctors need to practice on cadavers and organ donation is a good thing, because those things save lives. We hope they’re done with sufficient gravitas, but they do get done – we have gotten past our gut feelings on those. I’m pretty sure that after awhile, society will get to the same point on this issue – it will be considered mostly ok, but something you can refuse to participate in if you want, and if you die without clear wishes your family has to figure out what you wanted.

    Now, as for all this stuff about whether its worth the hassle to bring another person into the world instead of saving an existing person, I see that as a separate issue – the same issue that always comes up when someone wants expensive procedures to get pregnant instead of adopting an existing baby. It IS an issue, but its not new to this situation.

  27. Complicated
    Complicated August 14, 2011 at 8:07 am |

    We also accept that some number of dead bodies get used as crash test bodies, because that saves lives of future people who are in crashes. We put actual real skeletons in high school biology classrooms so that kids can learn. We do tons of body desecrating when its for a reasonable purpose, and we get past thinking of it as desecrating once we’re used to the idea. I feel like this is only bothering people because they’re not used to the idea. I’m sure when doctors first figured out how to remove an inflamed appendix, people had the same creeped out feeling at the idea of being cut open and having an organ removed.

  28. DammitJanet
    DammitJanet August 14, 2011 at 8:20 am |

    This is how you get ghosts.

  29. Amanda
    Amanda August 14, 2011 at 10:45 am |

    I would not want my parents to harvest my eggs. I don’t think it would be fair to me or to my offspring which would be produced from it.

    We also have to think of the rights of the individual being conceived/born. It is only “genetic material” for so long before it turns into a living, breathing, human being with rights. How much will they appreciate such a thing? To never be able to meet their mother or their father if anonymous donation enters the picture? Their basic human rights matter too.

    We know from listening to donor conceived adults that many of them do not appreciate the manner in which they were conceived, especially if it was “anonymous.” Having access to genetic family members (which we all have) as well as nurturing family members (which may be one in the same) is the basic human right of all individuals. I love my parents whom I am not genetically related to; they did an excellent job! But I still have a basic human right to know where my DNA comes from.

    IMHO, for adults that likely have access to both nature and nurture themselves to create a human being whose genetic parents and genetic ancestry will be a legal mystery to them, is unfair. (and I do not need to be reminded that there are circumstances where this is not able to be controlled because not all conception is consensual. I was conceived from rape; I am more than well aware).

  30. Azalea
    Azalea August 14, 2011 at 11:12 am |

    I don’t know if anyone else has brought this up but what are your views on the harvesting of sperm by the wife of her deceased or dying husband? If he expresed a desire to not have any children or never gave consent for this is it still ethical? Does she have a right or should she have a right to do this and try to make him a father post-mortem?

  31. Z S
    Z S August 14, 2011 at 11:17 am |

    Just to add another layer to this – apparently the eggs of a conventionally cute, reasonably athletic college graduate who is free of certain hereditary conditions, are worth 50-100K a pop. Obviously withholding a kidney harvested from a corpse and charging money is unethical because that’s exploiting a desperate person who might die otherwise. But would it be ethical, assuming it was legal to take the eggs of such a woman on her death, to sell them? What if her next of kin were really struggling? What if she were their breadwinner?

    I feel a Lifetime movie coming on.

  32. DonnaL
    DonnaL August 14, 2011 at 11:49 am |

    Z S:
    Just to add another layer to this – apparently the eggs of a conventionally cute, reasonably athletic college graduate who is free of certain hereditary conditions, are worth 50-100K a pop. Obviously withholding a kidney harvested from a corpse and charging money is unethical because that’s exploiting a desperate person who might die otherwise. But would it be ethical, assuming it was legal to take the eggs of such a woman on her death, to sell them? What if her next of kin were really struggling? What if she were their breadwinner?

    I feel a Lifetime movie coming on.

    Z S:

    I feel a Lifetime movie coming on.

    Or another bad Jodi Picoult novel.

  33. Aydan
    Aydan August 14, 2011 at 12:14 pm |

    Azalea:
    I don’t know if anyone else has brought this up but what are your views on the harvesting of sperm by the wife of her deceased or dying husband? If he expresed a desire to not have any children or never gave consent for this is it still ethical? Does she have a right or should she have a right to do this and try to make him a father post-mortem?

    I don’t see how this is practically much different. If he’s dying, and he consents, then it’s not as ethically problematic, though there’s still the issue of what’s fair to the child. If he doesn’t consent, or died without consenting, then it’s wrong.

  34. igglanova
    igglanova August 14, 2011 at 1:03 pm |

    Complicated, bodies that are donated to science, exhibits, or whatever are obtained by getting consent from the dead person, not from their families. Consent is the key here – nothing can be a violation of the dead person if it’s something that they would have wanted.

    Also, what high school has a real human skeleton in the bio room? I’ve only ever seen the molded plastic ones. My high school would never have had the money for a real one, for one thing.

    I’d like to clarify my position. I don’t think we should legally forbid people from doing this sort of thing, because that would in fact be irrational. However, I reserve the right to judge people for it. Being this desperate to keep your super-special genes in the gene pool strikes me as arrogant and selfish. Comparisons to organ donation are not especially apt here, since those are done out necessity rather than whim.

  35. glitterary
    glitterary August 14, 2011 at 1:17 pm |

    To me, what makes this unsettling is that there’s no immediate reason for them to want the eggs.

    I’m actually fine with the idea of my whole body being donated in bits and pieces to those who need it, and my ovaries aren’t an exception; so if it were possible to give them to a woman who didn’t have her own, or harvest the eggs for IVF, that would be cool with me.

    So in this case, if she had a sister who couldn’t produce eggs but really wanted a child, harvesting the deceased’s sounds alright to me. But harvesting the eggs on the off chance, without an apparent surrogate for them? Yeah, that’s severely weird.

  36. Kyra
    Kyra August 14, 2011 at 3:03 pm |

    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

    It might be that they would be going out of their way to avoid the need for consent. And that they would be profiting from a situation that’s highly negative for you, in order to get that thing they want.

    The concept reminds me of guys who will look for excuses to argue that a certain act of coerced sex is justified/acceptable or isn’t rape (revenge, lesson-teaching for carelessness, she’s passed out and didn’t even notice), or chauvinist-chivalrous or colonialist minded people who are perfectly happy to have social forces that make a woman less self-sufficient, so that they are in a position to exchange generosity for gratitude. The Nice Guy “friend” who’s so happy that his affection-object’s boyfriend broke her heart because he can then try to get laid while comforting her; the businessman who’s happy to help a hotel maid with her finances a little in exchange for a blowjob; the lord of the manner who benevolently rules his peasants and is honored and loved by them ’cause he could be so much worse.

    It’s saying “I don’t have to care about what you want, and you don’t really have any excuse to complain, so I get what I want, isn’t that grand? And it’s nasty.

  37. Kyra
    Kyra August 14, 2011 at 3:12 pm |

    If kids were produced of my body, I’d feel responsible for them. I’d have trouble with someone else making them after my death for the same reason I’d have trouble giving up a baby for adoption: It constitutes a certainty that I won’t be there, can’t be there, to make certain that child is loved and cared for and given all zie needs to grow up strong and happy and fulfilled.

    Death is losing someone from the other side of the equation too. But I’d lose the kid in the world of the living, with no guarantee that they’ll be cared for, that they wouldn’t be abused or neglected or exploited or bullied or have to face the world without the love I can give them if I’m inhabiting a body on the same plane.

    I’d hate this concept because of all the stepmother stories, the Cinderellas and Snow Whites and Harry Potters and Tehanus and Nalias and Desiree de la Courcels, all the stories where the loving parent is taken away and is helpless, far away or beyond the grave, while someone replaces them and hurts the child and deprives them of love.

    It’s bad enough that I have to risk being taken away, living in this imperfect, chaotic, sometimes-deadly world as I do, but I wouldn’t want to create those stakes when I have no choice in the matter and even worse odds.

  38. Bacopa
    Bacopa August 14, 2011 at 6:54 pm |

    Is it really even possible to harvest ova from a a recently dead woman? Do we have a biologist in the house? I have been under the impression that egg cells were “ripened” for a few days under the influence of the hormone FSH and didn’t even separate from their last miotic polar body until shortly before ovulation. A quick review of the Wikipedia page on ovulation confirms this. This would lead me to think there would at most be two or three viable ova if the deceased donor happened to die between the end of her period and ovulation.

    Does reproductive medicine have a way of maturing an underdeveloped ovum? I understand that in natural in vivo fertilization the ovum isn’t really “penetrated” by the sperm cell. It’s more like there’s an interchange of enzymes and other signaling chemicals that makes it more the case that one sperm is invited in which results in a chemical change in the ovum’s cell membrane that lets no other sperm in. I have heard that there are techniques where a microprobe is used in vitro to allow a sperm to get in without this chemical signaling. Can an immature ovum be fertilized this way? If so, that would mean a deceased egg donor might have many ova to give.

    Post mortem sperm extraction has to be much easier. There are always at least a few of the little guys reaching maturity.

    In any case, both post death sperm extraction and egg extraction are a little creepy. But we should not rely on the so-called “wisdom of repugnance”. Perhaps we should just rely on the usual rule that the fate of one’s organs, tissues, and cells after death should be based on expressed wishes in life. You want folks to take your gametes if they want to, you give permission ahead of time.

    It’s interesting that this happened in Israel and that the woman was Jewish. I read the Craigslist employment sections frequently because I have been only semiemployed for almost a year now. There are always ads for Jewish egg donors, and the money is better that other egg donor solicitations. This is a result of the custom of maternal identity inheritance among Jews. Is there some kind of official position that Jewishness comes from the egg rather than from the gestational mother in some Jewish group? That would explain the demand for “Jewish” ova.

    So now we need not only input from a biologist, but also input from a religious expert.

  39. Complicated
    Complicated August 14, 2011 at 7:23 pm |

    How much will they appreciate such a thing? To never be able to meet their mother or their father if anonymous donation enters the picture? Their basic human rights matter too.

    Is that different than any other adoption or surrogate or sperm-donation situation? I thought we were discussing how this situation is new and different from other common scenarios.

    Having access to genetic family members (which we all have) as well as nurturing family members (which may be one in the same) is the basic human right of all individuals.

    Even if that’s true, they’d have both of those things in this situation.

    Complicated, bodies that are donated to science, exhibits, or whatever are obtained by getting consent from the dead person, not from their families.

    Is that always true? I’m definitely not an expert. On medical TV shows they often get consent for organ donation from family members, if the deceased hadn’t said either way. (Actually I’m not really clear on how that works – if I mark Donor on my license, can my parents override that once I”m dead and say no?). I assumed that consent for things like medical research would be about the same. Anyway, this situation is more like organ donation than museum exhibits.

    I’d like to clarify my position. I don’t think we should legally forbid people from doing this sort of thing, because that would in fact be irrational. However, I reserve the right to judge people for it. Being this desperate to keep your super-special genes in the gene pool strikes me as arrogant and selfish.

    And to clarify my position, I’d probably judge them a bit too (tho I’m not sure I’d judge them much differently than an older couple with a dead daughter who decided to have another baby via in vitro or a surrogate, but without their daughter’s eggs). But in this case there was a legal injunction to stop them, and I was arguing against that.

    Comparisons to organ donation are not especially apt here, since those are done out necessity rather than whim.

    The way I see it, there are two issues. One issue is do they have the right to give consent on behalf of their deceased daughter, and that’s where I think it parallels organ donation. The other issue is whether an older couple who can’t have their own baby at this point should be creating a replacement baby at all – will they be too old to take care of it, will it feel inferior to the first baby who died, will it worry about the parents not being its genetic parents, etc. I definitely see some issues there, but they aren’t new to this situation, and I think they should be private decisions.

    It might be that they would be going out of their way to avoid the need for consent.

    Pretty harsh, given that they didn’t want her to die. If they killed her for her eggs, then it would fit the way you’re describing it.

    or even helping my sister conceive if she isn’t able–rather than just being used to make another person if someone feels better about me being dead.

    These seem really similar to each other…

  40. Arkady
    Arkady August 15, 2011 at 5:09 am |

    @Bacopa,

    From what I remember of my undergrad reproductive biology course, I think cells would need to be harvested from a still-living donor (like most organ donation, done from a brain-dead donor). Harvesting many eggs requires some major hormonal intervention (one of the riskier parts of IVF). There’s been some progress on freezing ovarian tissue and transplanting it back into the donor I think (done experimentally with cancer patients). Embryo freezing is the standard method with female cancer patients I think, embryos or sperm are much easier to freeze than eggs (weird stuff with the water content, eggs have to be partially dehydrated or they form rupturing ice crystals).

    Not sure on your question of whether immature eggs can be fertilised by sperm injection, my instinctive answer is no but IVF isn’t my area of expertise.

    In some ways this reminds me of a case in the UK, two female cancer patients who froze embryos with their then-partners. The partners then withdrew consent for the embryos to be implanted, resulting in a major court battle for the women that they eventually lost. Despite full offers to absolve the men of any parental responsibility, the men still refused to give their former partners the chance to have biological children. From an ethics point of view I can see the whole ‘no-use-of-tissue-without-consent’, but that case still leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.

  41. Bacopa
    Bacopa August 15, 2011 at 4:34 pm |

    Arkady:

    Thanks for the clarifications about ova. I was aware that IVF was preceded by hormonal treatments to get more eggs to mature at the same time. It sure doesn’t seem like there are going to be many eggs to harvest, does it?

    I didn’t know about the whole freezing and reimplanting ovarian tissue technique. Sounds roughly similar to Lance Armstrong banking his own sperm after his cancer diagnosis. It does seem like ovarian tissue storage and reimplantation sounds a lot risker (and invasive!) than doing a round of IVF before cancer treatment, but I suppose there are probably types of cancers that you don’t want to give a blast of hormones.

    I had heard about the lawsuits you mentioned. There have been similar ones in the US. I can see that the courts wound want to err of the side of caution, but if the mother is willing to have the child and the father will not have to pay child support, I can see how the mother has a much stronger claim.

  42. Complicated
    Complicated August 15, 2011 at 5:14 pm |

    if the mother is willing to have the child and the father will not have to pay child support, I can see how the mother has a much stronger claim.

    Isn’t part of the problem that courts don’t uphold that kind of agreement? If the mother ends up broke, the courts will require the father to pay child support no matter what agreement they had, because its about the best interests of the child, not what the parents agreed.

    Even if they did uphold that kind of rule, I don’t know how I feel about it. What if it was the woman who didn’t want her fertilized egg used, and the man who wanted to have it implanted into his new girlfriend?

    I suppose how I feel about it also depends on what kind of agreements and conversations they had had back when they froze the embryos.

    The obvious solution is for science to get better at freezing unfertilized eggs. Apparently they currently freeze fertilized embryos because it works better than freezing unfertilized eggs, but then you have the problem that the embryo belongs to two people who can disagree, while the egg belongs only to one person.

  43. adhdphd
    adhdphd August 15, 2011 at 7:28 pm |

    Bacopa:
    It’s interesting that this happened in Israel and that the woman was Jewish. I read the Craigslist employment sections frequently because I have been only semiemployed for almost a year now. There are always ads for Jewish egg donors, and the money is better that other egg donor solicitations. This is a result of the custom of maternal identity inheritance among Jews. Is there some kind of official position that Jewishness comes from the egg rather than from the gestational mother in some Jewish group? That would explain the demand for “Jewish” ova.

    So now we need not only input from a biologist, but also input from a religious expert.

    It depends on the rabbi, there are probably thousands of interpretations when it comes to assisted reproductive technology. There are even some cases where a non-Jewish egg donor may be preferred (to reduce the risk of accidental incest in the future, or to reduce the chance of becoming a carrier for genetic diseases that are common among Jewish people such as Tay Sachs).

  44. Safiya Outlines
    Safiya Outlines August 15, 2011 at 7:54 pm |

    I understand the squick factor, but what people seem to be glossing over slightly is that here are some parents whose daughter died.

    I can imagine in that shattering, bone scratching, pain of grief. The thought of something, however outlandish, to keep their daughter ‘alive’ must be very appealing. A fixation with fighting to make this happen would be a good distraction from the everyday pain that they are going through.

    I am aware of a case in the UK (Diane Blood IIRC) where she fought for the right to use her dead husband’s sperm. Hugely controversial at the time.

    I think unless you have the consent of the donor prior to death then it’s morally untenable, but I can understand with why someone would want to do that.

  45. Sara Anderson
    Sara Anderson August 16, 2011 at 1:17 pm |

    The simple way to put my feelings on this: the dead don’t consent. They’re not people anymore. If I didn’t want to have kids, I’m still not having them if I’m dead and my parents sperm up one of my eggs.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t issues with this; the idea of bringing a child into the world unable to know her mother seems a little selfish to me. It took me a while to really get that, but I had a period when I was fairly sure I would die at a young age, and had the feeling that my spouse and I should have a kid so I wouldn’t leave him with nothing. Now I see that was kind of a nutty thing to think, along the lines of what Safiya above says. But then again, a lot of women die in childbirth, and their kids are in a similar situation.

    I totally understand why a person wouldn’t want this to be done with their gametes, but I hardly think legislation specially prohibiting it is necessary. Rather, it could be like the thing where you decide which organs you are cool with donating in the event of your death.

    I also can’t get past the feeling of this being a total contradiction of the “Once your sperm leaves your body, you deal with the consequences” thinking we often throw at men who don’t want to pay child support. Except once your person/soul leaves your body, there are no consequences.

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