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Is posthumous semen retrieval ethically permissible?
  1. R D Orr1,
  2. M Siegler2
  1. 1Fletcher Allen health Care/University of Vermont College of Medicine, Burlington, Vermont, USA
  2. 2The MacLean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics, Pritzker School of Medicine, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois, USA
  1. Correspondence to:
 Dr R D Orr, Director of Ethics, Fletcher Allen health Care/University of Vermont College of Medicine, 111 Colchester Avenue—Burgess 325, Burlington, VT 05401, USA;


It is possible to retrieve viable sperm from a dying man or from a recently dead body. This sperm can be frozen for later use by his wife or partner to produce his genetic offspring. But the technical feasibility alone does not morally justify such an endeavour. Posthumous semen retrieval raises questions about consent, the respectful treatment of the dead body, and the welfare of the child to be.

We present two cases, discuss these three issues, and conclude that such requests should generally not be honoured unless there is convincing evidence that the dead man would want his widow to carry and bear his child. Even with consent, the welfare of the potential child must be considered.

  • Posthumous semen retrieval
  • consent
  • treatment of the dead

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