A court ruled today in Israel that the parents of a 19-year-old soldier-boy who died four years ago are entitled to use the sperm that they had extracted from his corpse to impregnate a woman that he never met (and who they found by advertising – “wanted, womb, must be clean and healthy”?) so that they can produce a grandchild.

(See here and here.)

Initial reaction: WTF?! This is crazy, sick and wrong.
Considered reaction: Why is it?

Some of the arguments I have seen and heard:

What kind of life will it be for the child?

Well, you know, it’ll be life.

I’ve tried to imagine how I would feel if I found out that my dad wasn’t really my dad, and actually I was the child of a dead soldier’s frozen sperm together with a woman that the-nice-lady-who-it-turns-out-is-my-“real”-grandma found on the internet. I think it would be weird. Possibly also kind of cool. But seriously weird.

No weirder or harder to cope with, however, than finding out that you are adopted, that your “dad” is really your step-dad, that it actually isn’t perfectly normal to have two mummies and no daddy, that the laws of genetics do actually preclude two white people from having a brown baby, that people don’t like you just because you are fat / thin / clever / stupid / female / male / white / brown / pretty / ugly… and that the world we live in is a lot nastier to certain groups of people that our cosy protected home life led us to believe.

No weirder or harder to cope with than any number of other incidents of normal-ish life.

Will the adults involved have some kind of pressurising expectations of the child? That it will be a replacement for the dead father? That it will carry on the family name? That it will and must be perfect in every way because it means so much?

Many, many children are born into situations where there is a danger of these weird, unfair expectations. Children conceived in the hope that they will be able to donate bone marrow to a sick sibling. Children conceived as part of any healing process – grief at the loss of another family member being a common example, I imagine. And then think of only-children, who carry the burden of all their parents’ hopes and fears instead of being able to share that burden with siblings. Do we forbid these people from having children for these reasons?

This woman doesn’t need a grandchild, she needs a grief counselor.

The putative grandmother “on an instinct” arranged for her dead son’s sperm to be extracted from his body and frozen. Some time later, she had a dream about him which prompted her to take action. She set the wheels in motion to create her grandchild.

We cannot know her true motives, of course.

It is difficult to think of any rational explanation for a person wanting to create a grandchild out of her dead son’s sperm using the womb of a stranger… but having children isn’t about being rational. It is about love. People do all kinds of crazy things to have a child, and it isn’t about being rational – it is about love. I’ve never understood this crazy urge: but then it is very easy to say that, if you are someone who on all the available evidence appears to conceive at the drop of a hat, and who has never actually been through the “shall we have a child” decision-making process, or been through the experience of failing to conceive…

Yes, this does sound a lot like the grief talking: but don’t we think that Mr and Mrs Cohen might have thought of that? Don’t we think that the courts, lawyers, doctors and other advisers in the case might have asked that question? And, if it is grief, does that mean it is a bad thing to do? Many couples decide to have another chld after the death of an existing one – is that grief? If so, should they therefore be chastised for their self-indulgence? I have no doubt whatever that Mrs Cohen knows exactly what she is doing, and why. Yes, there is grief involved, but so what?

This child will be an orphan before it is even conceived / It is wrong to bring a child into the world without a father.

Laughing my bum right off. The child will not be all alone in the world: it will have a mother, for one thing, and at least one set of eager, not-too-old grandparents.

This “children need fathers” crap is a myth. M. Y. T. H.

I will blog more about this another day: for now I concede that coming from a single mother a bit of bitching about how UN-necessary fathers can be for the welfare of the child is not necessarily going to cut much ice. Suffice to say, that in a family such as this where there is evidently plenty of wealth and plenty of support, I’m willing to bet that the absence of a father will not cause the child any great disadvantage.

But the son/father did not consent!

Very true. He did express a desire to his mother that he would one day have children, and we do not know how serious this desire was. However, feeling like you’d like to have children one day is NOT the same as giving consent to your sperm being extracted from your cold, lifeless body and injected into the uterus of a total stranger.

Having said that: he’s dead, what does he care?

I wouldn’t have a problem with his dead liver, kidneys, heart, lungs, younameit being donated for re-use, whether or not he had specifically consented, if his nearest and dearest had given their consent instead. I might feel kind of concerned about that idea if he had specifically said “NO” and they had gone against his express wishes. But if he expressed no particular view, and they said yes, I would have no problem. Why is taking his sperm any ickier?

There are already enough children in the world / It is playing God

Very true. But, again, this doesn’t stop any other fertility treatments from going ahead. We create children “unnecessarily” all the time – and we play God all the time. This is no worse.

So then what?

I honestly don’t know the “right” answer. Is there one?

I feel that all the above are good reasons to be cautious about doing something like this. But they are not compelling reasons, in the sense that they should be determinative of such a seriously, fiercely personal decision as this. To my mind, they are analogous with the “good” reasons that are often advanced in relation to the decision whether to continue a pregnancy to term or abort it. They are points that a person must be aware of and take into account if they are to make a responsible decision, to make the right decision: but they cannot predetermine that decision.

Perhaps my distaste at the whole idea is purely that it seems icky. That doesn’t seem like a good reason to stop somebody from doing something they want to do. All kinds of stuff people do seems icky to me, but in general I don’t go around saying that They Should Be Stopped. Perhaps all the reasons in the world are just a cover because it just seems icky.

This would not be my choice, I feel sure, if I were in that situation.

But nor can I bring myself to condemn the idea. There is, after all, something in it, when you look past the ickiness: something astonishing, powerful, something to spark the imagination.

And after all, why not?

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