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Now we can use dead people’s cells to create new life. But who decides?

His parents told the court that they wanted to retain the ability to use sperm in order to eventually have children who would be genetically related to Peter. The court granted their wishesand Peter’s sperm was removed from his body and stored at a local sperm bank.

We have the technology to use sperm and possibly eggs from dead people to create embryos and eventually children. And millions of eggs and embryos – and even more sperm – are stored and ready for use. When the person who provided these cells dies, like Peter, who decides what to do with them?

This is the question that was raised in online event belongs to the Progress Educational Foundation, British charity for people with infertility and genetic diseases, which I visited on Wednesday. The panel consisted of a clinician and two lawyers who asked many tricky questions but gave few concrete answers.

In theory, the decision should be made by the person who provided the eggs, sperm or embryos. In some cases, a person’s desires may be quite clear. Someone who may be trying to conceive a child with their partner may store their germ cells or embryos and sign a form saying they are glad their partner can use those cells, for example, in the event of his death.

But in other cases it is less clear. Partners and family members who want to use cells may need to collect evidence to convince the court that the deceased person really wanted to have children. And not only that, but also that they wanted to continue their family line without necessarily becoming parents.

Sex cells and embryos are not property – they are not subject to property law and cannot be inherited by family members. But there is some degree of legal ownership for the people who provided the cameras. However, determining this ownership is difficult, Robert Gilmour, a Scottish family law specialist, said at the event. “The law in this area gives me a headache,” he said.

The law also differs depending on where you are. Posthumous breeding is not permitted in some countries and is not regulated in many others. In the US, laws vary from state to state. According to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine (ASRM), some states will not legally recognize a child conceived after a person’s death as their descendant. “We don’t have any national rules or policies,” Gwendolyn Quinn, a bioethicist at New York University, tells me.

In the meantime, societies such as the ASRM have compiled guidelines for clinics. But it can also vary slightly between regions. The guidelines of the European Society for Human Reproduction and Embryology, for example, recommend that parents and other relatives should not be able to request germ cells or embryos of a deceased person. This refers to Peter Zhu’s parents. The concern is that these relatives may hope for a “memorial child” or “a symbolic replacement for the deceased.”


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