On a number of occasions in the past I’ve commented on the practice of harvesting sperm from man after he has died. I’ve also written quite recently about the aggressive use of ART in Israel. And of course, there’s the intersection of the two–use of posthumous sperm in Israel and how it ties to those aggressive policies on ART. So this story from Haartez shouldn’t be at all surprising. Nevertheless I think it is the first time I’ve seen a report of posthumous egg harvesting.
Here are the basic facts. Hen Aida Ayish was a 17 year old severely injured in a car accident. Sadly, she could not be saved. Her family (I presume this means her parents) authorized the removal of various organs for transplantation and then sought permission to harvest her eggs. Some of her eggs were then extracted and frozen.
To get this far the family apparently had to obtain a court order, which they did. But it seems they will need another court order to actually use the eggs and there doesn’t seem to be any precedent for that.
Initially the family wanted her eggs fertilized before they were frozen–it’s easier to freeze pre-embryos than eggs, I think. They proposed using sperm from someone who had died as well–someone presumably entirely unknown to them and to their daughter. This request was not successful and the eggs alone were frozen. (I’m not exactly sure why this matters, but somehow it seems worth noting.)
So what to say? It seems to me that this is where attachment to genetic linkages inevitably takes you. Why have the parents taken this extraordinary step? Because the possibility of having a child who is genetically linked to their daughter and is very important to them. Nothing else explains it.
It’s clear, of course, that their daughter will never be able to serve as a social/psychological parent to any chid that might result. But people who value the genetic linkage typically devalue the social/psychological aspects of parentage and so this may not matter so much.
I think this devaluation of the relational side of parenting is virtually necessary if you are going to take a very strong position on the primacy of the genetic link. After all, if the genetically linked person is absent for the first ten years of a child’s life, but then walks in and claims parental rights, that person has no social relationship with the child. But some take the position that he or she should still be entitled to claim rights–even to wrest rights away from those who have been social/psychological parents for those ten years but who have no genetic link.
Needless to say (at least for those who have been reading the blog in the past) I find the devaluation of the emotional/relational side of parenting and the exaltation of genetic linkage problematic. It’s not so much that I think it is necessarily wrong to harvest the eggs–if you can donate the organs to other people, perhaps you should be able to essentially keep some for your own future use. But I think it arises from a misguided sense of what is most important–from an attachment to genetic linkage that is overblown.
I’m curious about how people can at once insist on the importance of genetic linkages and also say that this is wrong. The genes Ms. Ayish carried are those of her parents (I assume). If the parents use her eggs they can ensure her access to the genetic lineage that preceded her. They can provide the medical information that is important.
What they cannot provide is an emotional/psychological relationship with the gamete provider, but isn’t the assertion in some of the earlier discussions here (like the comments here about returning the child without regard to emotional connections that may have formed) a basis for saying that this is less important?
I think some will say that only Ms. Ayish could be a mother to any child conceived with her eggs and so you would be creating a guaranteed motherless child. But from a genetic point of view, the child isn’t motherless–it’s just the child of a deceased mother. And if the social aspects of parenting aren’t that important, then what is the harm to the child in having a deceased mother? I know I’m missing something here, but it does seem to me there’s a little internal tension around the point.