It’s about the “genetic legacy” some people leave at death: sperm or embryos that remain frozen can be used by the widow or widower depending on their personal circumstances and the law they are submitted to. It’s funny how, being professionals who dedicate our time to the creation of life, we’re permanently forced to ask our patients about their last will when their days come to an end…
Postmortem Assisted Reproduction. Some people die and leave behind frozen semen or embryos. On occasions, these are considered a “genetic inheritance”.
A man, for example, can freeze his sperm before undergoing treatments such as chemotherapy – which might affect his testicles – or freeze them for In Vitro Fertilization because he believes the day in which the oocytes recover, he may not be able to take his sperm to the reproduction centre, or he may be on a trip, he either lives far from the clinic, or he may even have difficulty obtaining the sperm.
Sometimes embryos are also frozen, given that often, during an In Vitro Fertilization process, more embryos are generated than actually transferred to the women, and the surplus embryos are frozen.
Reproduction clinics systematically take these factors into account. To freeze sperm or embryos, the patient must first sign a consent form in which he stipulates what is to be done with his genetic material in the event he dies: either destroy them or use them, and in the latter case name the woman who can use them.
The woman who is given this potential inheritance and wishes to have a child after the man has died, faces a legal situation that varies from country to country. In Spain, she does not have to be legally married to the deceased, but she has a period of 12 months to get pregnant. After this deadline, the notary must know who are the heirs of the deceased’s genetic material.
At my job every day I see the surprised faces of patients when they read the documents; I have experienced these situations personally, such as the case of a recently widowed woman from Ireland who asked us to insert the frozen embryos of her husband transferred from the island because she could not do it in her country, or parents who are desperate to obtain a descendant from a deceased son and cannot, because there is no name on the consent form or simply because the widow refuses to.
It is odd that, on a daily basis, we professionals who are in constant contact with the origin of life have to ask our patients how they wish to handle the inevitable end.