This week I stumbled across a headline that got the lawyer, and the woman, in me thinking.
“Queensland woman wins right to use dead boyfriend’s sperm.”
The couple, in their early twenties, had been together for 3 years. Within 48 hours of the man’s death, his girlfriend obtained court permission to harvest his sperm.
Now, I’m a corporate lawyer, so am not in the business of dealing with questions of posthumous sperm retrieval.
But it turns out this isn’t the first time courts have grappled with the issue.
In fact, there are already laws that, generally speaking, permit women to harvest and inseminate their dead partner’s sperm if said partner consented to it in writing (for example, in their Will).
Such laws bear testament to the time in which we live; where technology is stretching the tenebrous walls in which ethics and traditional ideals of personhood reside.
In this case, the death was sudden and unexpected.
There was no express prior consent given by the deceased.
And yet, the Queensland Supreme Court, playing part legal arbiter / part God, determined the sperm was “property” and the applicant was entitled to permanent possession of it. Deciding, essentially, the deceased would have wanted this outcome because the couple had previously agreed to start a family.
But is that enough to constitute the implied consent of a dead person? And what of the rights of the child?
The question might be asked: to what extent is parenthood divisible from the reproductive tissue itself?
You see, I too want to start a family one day.
But would I want my beloved harvesting my eggs to procreate on my behalf if I was six feet under?
Well of that, I’m not so sure.
But I think I’d probably say no.
Regardless, a precedent has been set; that one human can own another human’s reproductive tissue.
A precedent that challenges the abstraction of bodily autonomy, oft seen as a fundamental human right.
The inviolability of the physical body.
It’s why you can’t be forced to donate blood, tissue or organs. Even if you are dead.
Indeed, I find the idea that I don’t control my body and the things removed from it somewhat repugnant. But perhaps that’s an archaic view. Assisted reproductive technology is challenging what it means to be human. And it seems the courts are doing a good job of keeping pace.
One thing I do know for certain is that after someone you love dies, life goes on.
And it goes on in fortuitous and unexpected ways.
Decisions made while you’re grieving may be radically different if made years later.
If I was to pass away, especially at the age of 23, I like to think my partner would eventually move forward, fall in love and have children with someone else.
But that’s the woman in me talking, not the lawyer.
Post script: today’s headline that’s got me thinking: Townsville Man Gives CPR to a Frog Spat Out By a Snake #lovequeensland