Treating sperm donations like organ donations after death could help fill shortage, UK ethicists suggest

People should be allowed to donate their sperm after they die, a new paper from the UK suggests, but a New Zealand fertility expert is a bit sceptical.

Source: 1 NEWS

Published today in the Journal of Medical Ethics, the analysis says it's not just technically feasible, but "morally permissible" for people to agree to have sperm removed after death, for the use of strangers. 

In both the UK and New Zealand, there's a serious shortage of donated sperm. In New Zealand, the wait list for a sperm bank can be up to two years.

But if sperm were treated in a similar manner to organ donation, it could help plug the gap, the UK ethicists say.

"In broad strokes, we envisage men indicating during life that they have a preference to donate sperm after death," authors Dr Nathan Hodson and Dr Joshua Parker say.

"If it is morally acceptable that individuals can donate their tissues to relieve the suffering of others in 'life enhancing transplants' for diseases [like corneal transplants], we see no reason this cannot be extended to other forms of suffering like infertility, which may or may not also be considered a disease."

It's possible to harvest healthy sperm for up to 48 hours after death, according to the authors.

Hypothetically, this could then be supplied and stored at a sperm bank for use by a stranger.

But a New Zealand fertility expert says there are still big questions that haven't been answered in the paper.

"It probably raises more questions than it answers," Dr Dean Morbeck, scientific director at Fertility Associates, told 1 NEWS.

"If a person signs a donation card, it's one thing to donate your organs, it's another thing to donate sperm just by signing a little form.

"It's difficult to imagine there would be very many [contributors this way], but if it were a good treatment option, it's something that would add more donors to the pool."

Currently in New Zealand, children born from sperm donation have the right and ability to find and contact the donor when they're 18.

Your playlist will load after this ad

A Sunday programme investigation has revealed the lack of regulation is allowing some donors to mislead women. Source: 1 NEWS

That wouldn't be able to happen.

"I put value on that ability to have that genetic connection at some point… To choose that from the get-go, doesn't resonate well with me," Dr Morbeck says.

There are also issues that can arise from surviving family members.

Dr Hodson and Dr Parker admit there is the risk that the family "develop unrealistic expectations about... the status of any resulting child to them".

"Genetic relatedness is often taken to imply a special relationship," they say.

Expanding a family is one reason why someone's sperm, already donated to a sperm bank, would still be able to be used after their death.

If there was already offspring from a previous donation, and the family was interested in a sibling, the remaining sperm could still be used, Dr Morbeck says.

But if someone died before their contribution is used at all, the entire sample is destroyed.

Both that, and the discussion around collecting sperm from a deceased person on their family's wishes, are a different scenario than the one being proposed.

Your playlist will load after this ad

It comes two years after Ayla Cresswell discovered her partner's body, and had his reproductive tissue removed. Source: 1 NEWS

Dr Morbeck stresses that this isn't a formal study, but an analysis - not a formal recommendation, but essentially an opinion piece by the ethicists.

"I think we're quite far from being able to consider this."

The paper looked at the possibility of someone being able to sign off on sperm donation similar to other organ donations, for it to go to a stranger through a sperm bank, rather than a pre-arranged contribution.