Monday, January 29, 2007

Stretching Ethical Boundaries

Today's Chicago Tribune described an Israeli mother's desire to preserve her son's lineage:
More than four years after her 20-year-old son was killed in action in the Gaza Strip, Rachel Cohen is hoping for a grandchild after winning a court case to have a woman inseminated with the dead soldier's sperm.

The case, decided this month by a court near Tel Aviv, is the first in the world in which a court permitted a woman to be inseminated from a known, dead sperm donor who was not her partner, according to the lawyer who argued the case, Irit Rosenblum.
The circumstances of the case have significant implications:
Rosenblum, who heads New Family, an Israeli family rights group, said the ruling meant that family lines could continue years after death through a person unknown to the deceased.

"We've created a victory over nature," Rosenblum said. "This is an unprecedented human drama."
But what would the son have thought about this:
"After he was killed, I picked up a picture of him that I had in the bedroom, broke the frame and started talking to him," Cohen said. "I told him: `You've been killed, all your dreams are gone, nothing is left of you.' Through his eyes he told me that it wasn't too late, and that there was still something to take from him.

"I didn't understand. I said, `You're about to be buried; what is left for me to take?' Then I realized it was his sperm," Cohen said. "I used to be a nurse and I knew from the newspapers that sperm can be frozen. I rushed to the local army office and asked that his sperm be removed and frozen. It was done the same day."
What bothers me about this case was the mother's statement, "...what is left for me to take?" I would have been more supportive if she had said, "what more could he give?" Organ donation should be pre-specified by the donor, not their loved one, and to violate this mandate crossed an important ethical boundary. As a physician, I would have a very hard time, indeed, granting the mother's wish to freeze her son's sperm unless he had requested organ donation before his death.

- Wes

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