Israel Aims to Regulate Removal of Sperm From Deceased

Bill promoted by Health Ministry touches on several areas of sperm donation, including limiting to nine the number of women that could be legally inseminated by the same donor.

Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis
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Sperm swimming toward an egg.
Sperm swimming toward an egg.Credit: © Hojo | - Sperm Going For The Egg Photo
Jonathan Lis
Jonathan Lis

A bill now being promoted by the Health Ministry would regulate the removal of sperm from the deceased and limit to nine the number of women that could legally be inseminated by the same donor. The bill also calls for the establishment of a data base through which people could discover whether they were conceived through artificial insemination.

The bill also calls for a penalty of up to three years in prison for illegally operating a sperm bank or brokering sperm donations and six months in prison for various other infractions, including taking donor sperm out of the country or operating a sperm bank without a license.

Artificial insemination in Israel is currently governed by Health Ministry public health regulations and directives published by the attorney general. Because artificial insemination is not enshrined in law, the courts quite often find it difficult to rule on contentious matters, including the use of the sperm of a deceased individual.

The bill discusses several issues comprehensively, based, among other things, on the principles established by the attorney general. “The guiding principle in this law regarding the use of a man’s sperm after his death to bring children into the world, is that the husband’s desire be followed, rather than the interests or desires, as sincere and understandable as they may be, of other people, including the closest family members. Sperm cells in the body of the deceased are not an “asset” and are not part of an estate,” according to explanatory remarks included in the law.

A person wishing to donate his sperm after death will be required by law to sign a document stating his intention, whether the donation would be for the birth of a child, research, or whether sperm already frozen should be destroyed in the case of his death.

If the sperm donor does not have a permanent domestic partner at the time of his death, the new law would allow him to leave a written directive allowing a woman, not a relative, to attempt a pregnancy from his sperm. Such a donor could also appoint in writing another person to in turn select a specific woman to attempt a pregnancy with the donor sperm after the death of the donor. The use of the sperm by the deceased’s wife or permanent partner would only be permitted if she is not married to another man and has not given birth to a child to someone else before use of the sperm.

The bill also states that if a man dies suddenly without leaving a written directive, the wife or permanent partner may direct that sperm be removed; however, other family members may do so only if such a directive exists.

The bill prohibits the use of the sperm of a deceased minor.

At present only hospitals are allowed to operate sperm banks. The bill, however, would allow sperm banks to be opened at clinics that meet certain criteria.

The bill also calls for a database that would allow a person to look up whether he or she had been conceived through artificial insemination, while preserving the anonymity of the donor. The database would also allow a couple to determine before they get married whether they are related.

Another aspect of regulation called for by the new legislation is a prohibition on taking sperm out of the country, to prevent trafficking and the use of the sperm for families that are not Israeli.

The bill also allows for the possibility that a man might change his mind about being a sperm donor as long as the sperm has not yet been used for fertilization. If a man changes his mind, the law allows the operator of the sperm bank to demand a donor return the money that he was paid.

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