High Court Refuses to Authorise Collection of Gametes from Dying Student

Is it right for gametes – sperm or eggs – to be collected from dying people who can make no choices for themselves so that their genetic legacy can live on after they are gone? The High Court grappled with that issue in a desperately sad case.

The case concerned a university student who was being sustained on life support following a catastrophic stroke. He was unconscious and there was virtually no prospect of him surviving. The tragedy prompted his parents to make an emergency application for permission to retrieve some of his sperm so that it could be frozen and subsequently used in the conception of a child or children.

His girlfriend was said to have expressed a desire to carry his child and his parents were more than willing to raise any child born following his death. His father testified that he was very family-focused and had consistently spoken from an early age of his wish to become a father. He had kept his own toys, and even his junior golf clubs, with a view to giving them to his own children one day.

Ruling on the matter, the Court recognised the intensity of his parents' suffering and the strength of their views that the proposed procedure would accord with his own wishes were he able to express them. The Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority had opposed the parents' application, but the NHS trust that bore responsibility for his care had taken a neutral stance.

Rejecting the application, the Court noted that he had made no advance decision to authorise the proposed procedure. His past expressions of desire to be a parent were not relevant to the issue before the Court in that it was one thing to have a consistent and heartfelt wish to be a living, caring father, but quite another to have one's sperm collected and stored when unconscious and dying. There was no evidence that he would have chosen that course for himself.

Ruling that it would not be in his best interests to authorise the proposed procedure, the Court noted that it would be invasive, both in physical and privacy terms. It could not be concluded that the declarations sought by his parents would accord with his wishes, values or beliefs. The Court was informed of his death after delivering its decision and expressed its condolences to his parents.