Respect the Dead by Creating New Life

Anonymous sperm donations rob children of their rights to a genetic record, a complete family tree, and a paternal family.

Irit Rosenblum
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Irit Rosenblum

In 2001, I proposed the formation of a sperm bank for IDF soldiers, which would offer soldiers the chance to store sperm for use the event of their death or loss of reproductive ability. 

My defining experience was meeting a handsome, grief-stricken young man. Shortly after enlistment into the IDF, he had a life-altering case of inflamed testicles. After three and a half years of negligent care, he was informed that he would never father children. "Since then", he said, "I am a shadow of a man. The idea that my manhood is impaired gives me no rest, and the pain is compounded by the knowledge that I could have stored my own sperm if only the possibility had been presented to me."

Through meeting like these with young people, the idea of the world’s first Biological Will Bank was born.

The Biological Will Initiative enables any man or woman to draft a Biological Will specifying the intended use of their gametes or ova in case of premature death or loss of reproductive capacity. 600 Biological Wills have been deposited by young people. As the only organization in the world drafting and storing Biological Wills, New Family has helped terminally ill people, bereaved parents, soldiers, and widows create their biological legacy.

History's first human artificial insemination was conducted in the U.S. in 1884 by Dr. William Pancoast. It was an experiment on a woman who was not even aware that the procedure had been performed on her, and she believed that the baby to which she gave birth had been conceived naturally. The experiment was shrouded in secrecy and its existence was not revealed until 1909.  It's clear that the woman's rights were violated. But do today's inseminations protect everyone's rights?

In Israel today, artificial inseminations are still shrouded in secrecy.  We don't know how many children were born from anonymous sperm donations in Israel. In Israel, the identity of sperm donors is confidential, forever. Studies conducted around the world have found that the need of children born of anonymous sperm donations to know their father's identity is so vast that they often embark on long searches to find their roots. Unraveling an unsolvable mystery sometimes consumes their entire lives.

Anonymous sperm donations rob children of their rights to a genetic record, a complete family tree, and a paternal family. The human need to trace our roots is instinctive, primordial, and universal. Knowing your origins is a human rights issue. In contrast to the anonymous donor paradigm, the children born from Biological Wills get a complete genetic record, a complete family tree, and a paternal family.

Biological Wills are currently the only legal option for known sperm donations in Israel. As reproductive technologies become more sophisticated, Biological Wills could offer a new paradigm for the family. It offers single women and lesbian couples an alternative to anonymous sperm donation by receiving donations from a known donor to form a family with the father’s kin and/or give their child a complete genetic record.

Biological Wills fulfill the interests of all parties, without compromising anyone's rights or integrity. All stakeholders benefit: the young man who wishes to father children in the event of his premature death; the designated mother, who wishes to have a child that knows their father's identity and can trace their genetic roots; and the father's family, who seek continuity of their family line and can provide the child a loving family of paternal grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Biological Wills also allow men whose female partners have died or lost their reproductive capabilities to bring their biological children into the world with a surrogate mother.

Biological Wills offer new possibilities for parenthood, and the law must address the demands and opportunities presented by the changing face of the Israeli family. Regulations on the storage and use of sperm should be changed to permit use of donated sperm even after the donor's death.

Young people, soldiers and civilians, should be allowed to preserve their sperm in case of premature death or loss of reproductive ability.  Even a man who did not store his sperm can have it extracted up to 72 hours after his death. If his desire to father children is proven in a court of law, his genetic legacy can live on after him.

Explicit instructions by the deceased on the circumstances in which he wishes to father children left in a written Biological Will are the most accurate indication of his prerogative. A legally-binding record of his wishes eliminates the need for speculation or interpretations of his intentions and can save bereaved relatives avoidable legal battles. 

The Biological Will initiative achieved a global precedent in 2011, when the world’s first baby to be born two years after his mother’s death was born by a surrogate mother, who carried embryos created by both his parents before the mother succumbed to cancer prior to the completion of the couple's fertility treatments. Nissim Ayash, the father, is raising his son together with his new partner. 

Consider this new avenue of creating life before Israel’s Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers. We have an unequivocal obligation to honor the wishes of the dead while also respecting the interests of the living child and parent.  I believe that there is no more significant expression of human dignity than to bring a child into the world.

Irit Rosenblum is founder and executive director of the New Family organization.