John, a 30-year-old male, married and the father of a two-year-old daughter, is diagnosed as brain dead after a motorcycle accident. Mary, his wife, arrives at the hospital and signs the papers for multiple organ procurement and makes one additional request—that her deceased husband’s sperm be obtained and frozen. She intends to arrange for in vitro fertilization using her own ovum and the salvaged sperm from her now deceased husband. She tells the attending chaplain, “I don’t want our daughter growing up alone. Now that she has lost her father it’s all the more important for her to have a sibling.” The surviving widow admits to finding personal comfort in the thought of bearing another child with her deceased husband’s sperm, though she also admits that her husband was reluctant to have another child—a point of some contention between them while he was alive. Finally, she acknowledges that if the vitro fertilization is successful, she prays that God will give her twins.
You are a member of the hospital bioethics committee quickly convened to give guidance to the hospital staff. Are there any reservations on ethical grounds you can envision to this request to harvest the sperm? You will need to consider who has legal possession of the deceased man‘s sperm and whether there are moral or legal limits to his widow’s use of his sperm. You will need to consider the rights of the deceased husband, his now widowed wife, their sole child and the possible additional members of the family, using the basic principles of autonomy, beneficence, non-maleficence, and justice. (You may find it helpful to use the ethics rubric, C.A.R.E., provided by Dr. Winslow in his lecture available in this module as a PDF document, “G. Winslow and discussion: “Close up on Baby Doe and the Aftermath.”)