(A glimpse into my life as a Vanderbilt medical student)

Monday, September 06, 2004

Bioethics and Frozen Testes



Whether “right wing fanatic” or “liberal nutcase,” most people have consummate convictions when it comes to the sensitive subject of bioethics. As soon as certain topics are breached, tempers flare and pundits exchange fire. Topics like cloning, stem cell research, post-mortem sperm retrieval, and…wait…did I just type post-mortem sperm retrieval? That’s right. Welcome to 21st century bioethics where you can have that family you never wanted, even after you’re dead!

A new article in the Times tells the compelling story of Mrs. Leisha Nebel-Taylor and her quest to procure a sample of her dead husband’s sperm. Luckily for her, Mrs. (or I guess Ms. given her hyphenated last name) Nebel-Taylor has discussed this idea with her husband previously (In all honesty though, who hasn’t?) and he gave his full blessing to the entire icy escapade. Bioethicists are fearful, however, that this growing trend of spermatic stockpiling may raise important questions concerning informed decisions.

Informed decisions by whom, exactly? By the father? I guess it depends on your worldview, but if he is hanging out in the sweet hereafter, I am guessing he wouldn’t get too worked up about his wife’s fertilization habits. So if the hubby doesn’t care, I guess the next logical part of the decision process would concern the family of the deceased. I can just see them in the waiting room: “Gladys, you don’t own him, you never did and if I want to aspirate a sperm sample, by golly I’m gonna aspirate.”

However beyond the classic mother/daughter-in-law testicular property rights debate, one must seriously consider the implications for the cadaverically conceived child. There are questions that will need to be answered at puberty and it might get a little tricky: “Johnny, when two people really love each other, sometimes the mommy takes the dead daddy’s sperm and…” I envision hours of post-“birds and cryogenic spermatozoa talk” therapy.

Turns out Mr. Taylor’s sperm weren’t too happy about his death and yet another bioethical disaster was narrowly averted. Just goes to show that any time you are dealing with these nuclear warheads with a tail (as one of my esteemed professors lovingly refers to sperm) you have to be sure what your motives are in searching for the weapons of mass destruction.

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