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IVF After Death; Post-mortem Sperm Retrieval

By Stephanie Guler - Senior Content & Social Media Developer | June 13th, 2011

Across all cultures and religions, the idea of afterlife has been contemplated since the beginning of time.

While there are differing beliefs about what happens to the soul or spirit of a person after death, the physical body remains here on Earth. Many times, people are able to choose exactly how they want their body to be treated after they are gone. Some people decide to donate their bodies to science for research, and some donate their healthy organs to patients in need of organ transplants.

While these thoughts may be morbid in a sense, death is the only event we can be sure of in life, and these things are necessary to discuss.

One particular community has recently gotten involved in the business of afterlife, and it’s not at all what you’d expect.

Infertility specialists, those responsible for helping to create children for thousands of people every year, have started to debate the concept of conceiving after death.

But with these new advancements in infertility treatments, come more responsibility and a lot of debate about the ethical aspects of this controversial concept.

While it is acceptable for wives, girlfriends, fiancés and parents to use a man’s sperm with their prior consent, the situation gets a little more complicated when it involves an unexpected death.

Post-mortem sperm retrieval, as it is officially known, was attempted for the first time in 1980 after a man was left brain dead following a car accident.

The procedure is just like sperm retrieval, (used in infertility treatments involving male infertility factors) where the sperm is surgically removed and then frozen. Then, if she chooses, the partner of the deceased can use the preserved sperm to conceive a child using infertility treatments such as IVF with ICSI (intra-cytoplasmic sperm injection) microinjection.

The first successful pregnancy and birth using this infertility method happened in 1999.

Today thousands of people are requesting this procedure as a way to carry on the life of their lost ones through children; infertility specialists have the science part down and are able to help patients achieve successful pregnancies, but post-mortem sperm retrieval is a whole lot more than just science.

For some people, considering the creation of life after death is absolutely necessary. Before deploying on a possibly life-threatening mission, many soldiers choose to freeze their sperm using cryopreservation. This way, their wives at home are able to have a baby using in-vitro fertilization (IVF), even in the event of their husband’s death. Cancer patients are also encouraged to save their sperm and eggs, just in case they want to have children in the future.

So what happens when the person with cancer dies? One case in California involved a cancer patient who froze his sperm before chemotherapy and radiation, with the full intent of having a child with his wife. After his death, the patient’s wife had a hard time accessing her husband’s sperm. Although she is now pregnant, this issue continues to haunt her.

Another story in Israel revolves around a deceased man’s parents. Although the 27-year-old man was single in every sense of the word, after his untimely death, his parents wanted a grandchild using his sperm and a surrogate mother. They had his sperm extracted, but they are still waiting for permission from the Israeli government.

In-vitro fertilization (IVF) in Israel is already a widely accepted medical procedure. According to Time Magazine, “Israel is already IVF-crazy; health insurance pays for as many IVF cycles as needed to achieve the birth of up to two babies. In 2003, it codified guidelines surrounding posthumous reproduction that allow a spouse or partner to use a dead man’s sperm unless he has specified that was unacceptable.”

But even with the openness of the Israeli government to infertility treatments, these wannabe grandparents have caused quite a stir.

Theresa Erickson, attorney for the pregnant California women said the situation in Israel is “much less straightforward”. She told Time Magazine, “Creating a grandchild is much different than creating a child. Imagine what the child will think: My dad’s dead and he never even knew I existed. It’s a pretty sticky ethical and moral dilemma.”

The Israeli couple feels differently. They expressed their opinion to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, “If we were entitled to donate the organs of our son, why are we not entitled to make use of his sperm in order to bring offspring into the world?”

While both points are valid, it’s hard to predict where society will stand on this tough issue over the next few years. With the popularity of infertility (IVF) treatments on the rise, this topic had to come up for discussion eventually. As for now, we’ll have to wait and see how governments, citizens and medical professionals react to all aspects related to creating life after death through IVF.

To learn more about infertility (IVF) treatments, find an infertility specialist in your area.

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This article was written by the medical research team at does not intend for any of the information on this site to be regarded as medical advice - it is meant as a starting point for understanding treatment details and options before contacting a registered, licensed doctor. We advise all patients to seek medical advice from a doctor.
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