Sperm Can Be Donated 48 Hours After Someone's Died. Here's Why That's Important

Sperm donated after death could help with a shortage, say scientists.
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Men in the UK should be allowed to voluntarily donate their sperm after death, scientists have argued – in the same way organs are donated after someone has died.

The UK has a shortage of donor sperm, but demand is high and increasing, with the number of single women and women in same-sex relationships seeking fertility treatment on the rise.

Meanwhile male fertility problems – often caused by poor sperm quality or quantity – remain the most common reason for couples to seek fertility treatment. The researchers believe the introduction of donation after death could help fill the healthy sperm gap.

“If it is morally acceptable that individuals can donate their tissues to relieve the suffering of others in ‘life-enhancing transplants’ for diseases, we see no reason this cannot be extended to other forms of suffering like infertility, which may or may not also be considered a disease,” they wrote in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

After death, sperm can be collected either through electrical stimulation of the prostate gland or surgery, and then frozen until required.

Previous research suggests sperm harvested from dead men can result in viable pregnancies and healthy children, even when retrieved 48 hours after death.

Any concerns about the possible transmission of ‘unhealthy’ genes can be addressed by carrying out health checks on the donor and the sperm, the authors said. They added that sperm donation after death would also help to increase the diversity of supply.

Families could, of course, veto a donation – just as they can do for organs. But they may derive comfort from knowing their loved one is ‘living on’, the authors argued, adding that expectations about the status of any resulting child would need to be clearly addressed.

“The important point is that considerations of the family, including a romantic partner surviving the deceased man, do not justify a blanket ban on the use of sperm collected after death, especially if the donor has specified a desire to donate,” they said.

As funding for fertility treatment in the UK remains contentious – with many clinical commissioning groups cutting NHS IVF in their area – it’s unclear who would pay for the harvesting of sperm after death, the researchers note.

However, they concluded: “It is both feasible and morally permissible for men to volunteer their sperm to be donated to strangers after death in order to ensure sufficient quantities of sperm with desired qualities.”