Her Dad Died a Decade Ago. She's 3.
February 26, 2019 11:49 AM   Subscribe

Is preserving a Jewish bloodline worth creating a child who will never know her father? Over the past two decades, posthumous reproduction has occurred throughout the world in modest but growing numbers. In this version of assisted reproduction, men donate their genetic material in life, or have it extracted after death, so that they may continue their genetic lineage. Experts predict that the number of these procedures is likely to increase as reproductive technology gains prevalence and as “alternative families,” composed of combinations beyond the traditional heterosexual, two-parent setup gradually gain acceptance. Israel, an exceptionally pro-natalist country with the highest usage of IVF per capita, is a thriving laboratory for this novel way of family-making.
posted by GoblinHoney (29 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
What ever on earth is wrong about creating a child who will never know her father?
posted by ckridge at 12:02 PM on February 26, 2019 [26 favorites]

*squinting* I must say, as someone who would like to have kids and has a co-parent lined up but no convenient source of sperm on tap, I'm really side-eyeing that pull quote. Are fathers necessary to a family? Is sperm contribution a necessary component of a child's parenting--not genesis, but parenting?

(Honestly, the concept of a dead sperm donor is more attractive than you'd think for someone in that situation, especially if the man's parents were the sort of people you liked enough to strike up a potential adopted-family relationship with; there are complications to live sperm donors at sperm banks, too, as there are with everything surrounding parenting and children. People get emotional about children, and children want to know where they come from, and emotions tangle and reach out and react in complicated and difficult-to-predict ways. And it's hard, trying to weigh the desire to let children know where they came from, whether they have health things they ought to worry about... with the desire to not have to find what is for all intents and purposes additional family members in order to have kids, particularly with the terrifying uncertainty and vulnerability that implies.

Of course adoption is no less fraught, at least not if you do it remotely ethically.)
posted by sciatrix at 12:05 PM on February 26, 2019 [22 favorites]

I would argue that he may be a father but he'll probably never be a dad. Also he's dead. I think that a dad requires some emotional investment that are hard to manage when you aren't actually, you know, alive.
posted by PennD at 12:15 PM on February 26, 2019 [3 favorites]

I am pretty baffled how it works to create a legal heir for someone that's been dead for years. Surely he has no estate left to inherit? Is there some option to freeze his estate along with his sperm? That doesn't sound reasonable though.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:28 PM on February 26, 2019 [7 favorites]

I was wondering the same thing KAOS. My best guess is that maybe this is heir kind of like the heir to a throne, which means it's transitive. The son was the grandparents' heir, so the baby being the son's heir is automatically the grandparents' heir?
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 12:30 PM on February 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

My answer to "is X worth doing?" is "thats her choice, not your business, now help support all parents and children and stop gawking." Works for all sorts of situations. Adoption, surrogacy, single motherhood, abortion, etc.
posted by Anchorite_of_Palgrave at 12:35 PM on February 26, 2019 [13 favorites]

A few thoughts about this:

Who has the power to enforce these biological wills? Grieving parents? Ex-partners? Who controls the gametes after someone dies? (The article is all about sperm, but presumably this could be done equally effectively with harvested eggs.) If someone entails a biological will to reproduce after he dies, can anyone use those sperm who wants them, or are they held in trustee by a specific executor of that particular part of the will?

What are the grandparents' rights--the profiled cases all seem to be grandparents who are seeking mothers for their son's sperm--to these children if their relationship with the child's mother degrades? That would be my biggest concern, personally--the best-case-scenario of an additional family for the child to rely on and lean on and pull from is deeply attractive, but the willingness to put this much effort into the creation of a grandchild through a dead child speaks to a certain emotional investment on the grandparents' part of who and what this grandchild will be, and I can easily see conflicts sparking up between the mother and the dead in-laws. How will these be managed?

Who will be the primary parent of the child in question? Is it allowable for grandparents to pay a surrogate to carry the child, and if so, who determines whether they are young enough to act as suitable parents to the child until they reach adulthood? What will the role of the executor of the sperm donor's will be in the care and inheritance of the child? What happens if decisions about money change before the child is of age?

The article notes that all three children are legally the heirs to the sperm donors, but the posthumous estates of these men have surely all been settled. Can you have a legal heir born after the estate is dissipated? Or legally, are the grandparents simply entailing the portion that would have been the son's inheritance to the child, dedicating the dead son's estate to a possibility of his own offspring?
posted by sciatrix at 12:36 PM on February 26, 2019 [14 favorites]

I also think that it should be required that any guy who really wants this should have to make the effort to actually make a sperm deposit somewhere. I can't see any upside to skipping that except that it lets people use the sperm of a guy who never committed to the idea.

And I wonder if sperm banks, or clinics collecting sperm for couples undergoing fertility treatment/men banking ahead before chemotherapy etc, are including questions about what the donor wants done with the sperm when he dies? Seems easy enough to do, and would probably make a lot of court cases much more straightforward.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:38 PM on February 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

thats her choice, not your business

I think there are legitimate ethical and legal question to ask about this situation and just ignoring them will be a lot worse for the child in the long run. That said, I don't think this is a lot worse than anonymous sperm donation considering that you don't know whether the donor is alive or dead in those situations.

But the estate is a legitimate question - if the father's parents die, does this child have a claim to their estate? Do those grandparents have a right to claim guardianship if the birth mother and whatever partner she may have run afoul of the law? Whose name goes on the birth certificate? If the dead father was a citizen of a foreign country with jus sanguinis citizenship, would the child inherit it? There are some ways which make this radically different from anonymous sperm donation.

The issue is less about this one person'c choice than the ethics of the situation in general.
posted by GuyZero at 12:49 PM on February 26, 2019 [12 favorites]

Well, and less the ethics of "is it ever ethical to do this?" and more, I think, the ethics of "how do we ethically handle these cases in the event that something goes horribly wrong?"
posted by sciatrix at 12:52 PM on February 26, 2019 [10 favorites]

Recently, Malka has been trying to get her to call him Daddy. “Look how nicely he smiles. That’s Daddy,” says Malka, gently, as they stand in front of the photo.
Many kids grow up with the sadness of having a parent who's no longer living and able to love them. Normally that's beyond anyone's control. In Shira's case, her mom chose that sadness for her. I think that's more important than inheritance, estates, or bloodlines.
posted by fritley at 1:21 PM on February 26, 2019 [12 favorites]

I mean, it would be strange finding out that you were conceived with a dead man's sperm. But lots of things are weird.
posted by es_de_bah at 1:49 PM on February 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

I never really knew my father. He died when I was four. I have a couple dim and deeply fragmented memories of him, and some pictures. Nothing more than that.

Still, I persist in thinking there is some value to my life.

To me, at least. Hopefully to my daughter. I will make a point of asking her someday if I live long enough.
posted by Naberius at 2:12 PM on February 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

What does not knowing your father have to do with whether there is value to your life?
posted by the agents of KAOS at 2:27 PM on February 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Just wait until we get Uterine Replicator up and running. There will be children created with no living mothers or fathers.

"The Andresson Corporation has 51% of its stock in the family name. However, after that unfortunate accident, all living members of the family are dead. Fortunately, we have preserved germ plasm from Andrew and Andrea Andresson..."
posted by happyroach at 2:55 PM on February 26, 2019 [4 favorites]

"Currently, all women up to the age of 45 are eligible for unlimited funds for up to two babies..."

I choked up a little at this. I would have loved to have had that option when we realized that I had secondary infertility at 42. But our insurance company only allowed us 4 IVFs, so that's all we could try. It still hurts that we had to stop because of money. It still might never have happened. But to me this is a lot more what a so-called "pro-life" government should look like than the one we have.
posted by Mchelly at 3:26 PM on February 26, 2019 [12 favorites]

I would have been much better off (and saved so much in therapy bills!), I suspect, had I been the daughter of a sperm donor, dead or alive, than the 96%-absent biological father I actually had, who was around only and ever enough to cause pain and confusion. I can't say that I have any concerns whatsoever about the general ethics of having a child with an anonymous and/or dead sperm donor.

But boy, do I have some issues with the notion of taking sperm or eggs from a dead person who did not leave very explicit instructions for them to be taken and used for those purposes. I've chosen not to pass on my genetic code for a reason, and I don't have words for how abhorrent I find the idea of someone overriding that extremely personal decision after my death.
posted by Stacey at 3:46 PM on February 26, 2019 [13 favorites]

This is very interesting, but in the context of
As semi-official state policy, Israel has encouraged Jewish residents to have children with the goal of sustaining a Jewish majority and, more recently, to counter the higher fertility rates of Palestinians in the occupied territories. After the 1967 War ... the Israeli Demographic Center was established to increase Jewish birth rates, a mission the government described as essential to the survival of the Jewish people.
it makes me very uneasy.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:33 PM on February 26, 2019 [5 favorites]

With a cap of two kids per woman, I think that’s more the article-writer’s attempt to add more controversy to the story than any real there there.
posted by Mchelly at 4:41 PM on February 26, 2019 [8 favorites]

True, and I should have included the following sentence about how Arab-Israelis are also entitled to the same IVF access.
posted by ChuraChura at 4:44 PM on February 26, 2019 [6 favorites]

I did a bit of quick reading about the Demographic Center. If anyone wants to search for it, you're looking for "Demographic Center" which comes under the "Prime Minister's Office" or "Office of the Prime Minister" in "Israel". I presume that means it's effectively a committee with a budget, but I don't know; it might have an actual building and staff.

From my reading, even though the office was actually post-1967, Jewish demographic concerns preceded the Declaration of the State of Israel in 1948. This wasn't solely in Israel, or about Israel; and it had a lot to do with the Holocaust. I was born a generation afterwards, but I remember the childless "aunts" and "uncles" that were the debris of shattered families: elderly men and women who had survived when their children were murdered, and lonely survivors who were simply too traumatised to form a family. There was a very real fear that Hitler had effectively won. Even today, although the world's population has tripled there are fewer Jews alive than there were before the Holocaust.

None the less, Israeli government policy was at least in part based on a perceived threat of demographic competition with it's neighbours (excusable or at least accepted IMO) and in part on internal demographic competition between Israeli Jews and (mostly Arab) non-Jews living in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. That's problematic! The fact that the tools that were used were positive rather than negative possibly changes the ethical implications of the calculus, as does the fact that Palestinian leaders were doing the same thing, but it's not a good look. There's a saying that hard cases make bad law; I think they clearly make bad social policy, too.
posted by Joe in Australia at 6:18 PM on February 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

This is all pretty interesting. Israeli Arabs might have a right to do IVF, but I suspect that only the Christian ones will do it. Shari’a law doesn’t allow it. One decision said maybe a widow within the 4 month waiting period, but even then, there are objections. 1. Islam considers masturbation sinful behavior. 2. The woman has to show private parts of herself in order to retrieve eggs. That same woman has to show private parts of herself to either implant sperm or a ferilized egg or embryo. Deliberately showing those private parts, particularly to a man, ( or even a non - Muslim woman)in anything other than a life or death situation is considered sinful.
4. Some doctors and some sperm banks use mixed sperm. This muddies actual descent of any resulting child. 5. This last point is really important, death invalidates the marriage contract. Four months after a husband dies a widow is perfectly free to re-marry. Remarriage is encouraged if she’s young and still might be able to have children. Same goes for a divorced woman. If she wants to remarry, it’s certainly allowed. There’s cultures in the Muslim world which make it difficult for divorced women, but the same issues don’t apply to widows.
So this policy isn’t going to contribute to the numbers of Muslims within Israel. The fact that Palestinians tend to marry at relatively young ages and to start families right away is why they have more children.
This was an interesting article ! I wish that little girl well ! I grew up perfectly fine without my father around. She’s loved and wanted, so there is that.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 6:52 PM on February 26, 2019

The woman has to show private parts of herself in order to retrieve eggs. That same woman has to show private parts of herself to either implant sperm or a ferilized egg or embryo. Deliberately showing those private parts, particularly to a man, ( or even a non - Muslim woman)in anything other than a life or death situation is considered sinful.

Nevertheless, Muslim women manage to see gynecologists and give birth in hospital and so on, so that probably isn't an insurmountable obstacle.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 7:15 PM on February 26, 2019 [12 favorites]

My major reservation - I don't trust the medical profession to do the right thing by the mothers. When it comes to women - the standard of treatment is based on "can we do it?" not "should we do it?" - and that is pretty much true for all fertility medical issues.

and when money starts getting involved - shudder.
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 8:32 PM on February 26, 2019

Healthcare in Israel is basically socialised, so profit isn't an issue here.
posted by Joe in Australia at 8:41 PM on February 26, 2019

Everything about racial ethnostates is kind of weird.

I don't really know much about Israel's race rules, but the racial codes and pseudo-scientific "blood quantum" rules in the United States change so much I imagine you could end up with a donor who was one race when they donated, but gets reclassified as time goes on.

I miss you Octavia Butler. There's some sci-fi novel out there about people who pass through their racial caste system by artificial insemination.
posted by eustatic at 8:54 PM on February 26, 2019 [2 favorites]

Shari’a law doesn’t allow it.

This is a huge generalization and a largely inaccurate one. As with most aspects of fiqh (a more accurate term in this context) interpretations vary according to sect, school/madhhab, and scholar, but most Sunni and Shia perspectives agree that IVF for married couples is fine, although there's widespread opposition to the use of donor sperm/eggs or surrogacy among Sunnis (Shia interpretations vary more widely on this point, and donation is definitely available and used in Iran). This study was published over a decade ago (and is based on even older research) but gives an overview of how widespread and complex the range of thought and practice already was at that point. That said, you're definitely right that the majority view is against the posthumous use of sperm, whether involving a widow or a stranger as in the Israeli cases here.

Also legal interpretations don't always match up with cultural beliefs and practices, but this idea that it wouldn't be possible because women can't reveal their bodies to a doctor is bizarre--first of all, there are Muslim women ob-gyns (lots of them!) and while most rulings generally agree that women should see female practitioners where possible, they also usually say that it's ok to see a male doctor if a female one is not available, not only in a life or death situation. Again, actual practices probably vary a lot (and I'm sure many observant women would be more comfortable with a female doctor regardless of what the interpretation they follow says) but religious law is not a general barrier to seeking fertility treatment.
posted by karayel at 9:58 PM on February 26, 2019 [15 favorites]

The level of attachment people have to specific genes has perplexed me all my life.

I find the idea that there might be something unethical about a nation funding a fertilization of a child who can never know their parent even more confusing. It that less ethical than sending a child's parent off to war and possibly die? Sending one to prison? Deporting one?
posted by phearlez at 9:02 AM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

"The level of attachment people have to specific genes has perplexed me all my life."

Why is that? As organisms, we are basically vehicles to assist gene replication. Everything about our behaviour ultimately ties back into that pretty simple and straightforward directive. Life has gotten more complex and we are not slaves to our genes (well, I mean, we literally are, even free will is an illusion asserted for our own personal benefit in framing the universe around us but figuratively we have a lot of freedom in that regard), but still it makes a lot of sense or a person to have a preoccupation with specific genes.
posted by GoblinHoney at 11:32 AM on February 27, 2019 [1 favorite]

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