The women having children with their dead husbands’ sperm

SHE was devastated when her beloved husband died unexpectedly of a heart condition in 2004.

The woman, who wants to remain anonymous, pulled herself together enough to consent to the doctor's suggestion that his organs be donated at the Manhattan hospital where he died.

But she had an important request of her own - that his sperm be harvested so they could still have a child.

The New York couple had been trying to get pregnant and, more than two years after her husband's death, she was able to have his child through in-vitro fertilisation.

"I believe I had a right to do this because he was my husband, I was his wife and I knew he wanted this," the woman told the New York Post.

She waited about 10 years until breaking the news to her son about his conception.

"He was very excited and touched," she recalled.

"It meant a lot to him that his father and I loved each other so much that I went to such great lengths to have him."

Now, the memory of her beloved husband lives on in her son.

"He's an awful lot like his father," she said. "That's a very beautiful and important thing."

Children born in the US using sperm retrieved from their deceased fathers remain a rarity even though the science readily exists to make such miracles happen.

Last week's birth of Angelina Liu more than two years after her police officer father was gunned down sheds light on how life can occur after death.

Liu's mother, Pei "Sanny" Xia Chen, decided to preserve her husband's sperm at Woodhull Hospital in Brooklyn, where he was taken after he was fatally shot in December 2014.

Chen and Wenjian Liu had been married for two months and had planned to start a family.

Liu's mother said last week that the birth of her grandchild, nicknamed "Angel," was the happiest day since her son's death.

Angelina may be one of less than 10 children born nationwide through what's called a post-mortem sperm retrieval, one expert told The Post.

Health-care professionals don't typically ask a grieving spouse or loved one if they want to retrieve sperm. And even if the sperm is procured and stored for future use, many women never go through with an attempt to get pregnant.

"It is extremely rare that you'll actually end up using [the] sperm," said Dr. Peter Schlegel, a urologist at New York-Pres­byterian who helped draft his hospital's guidelines for retrieving sperm in cases involving sudden deaths.

The sperm can be extracted while someone is on life support or for up to 24 hours after the heart stops beating.

Extracting an egg from a deceased woman for later use is not considered viable because the egg would have to be in the right stage of maturation to be usable.

The first sperm retrieval was done in 1980 at the request of a grieving father, US Sen. Alan Cranston, a California Democrat whose son had been killed in a car accident. California urologist Dr. Cappy Rothman was able to extract sperm, but it was never used to conceive a baby.

The first successful conception from using sperm stored from a dead man was not until 1999 - a child born to Gaby Vernoff four years after her husband died suddenly. Rothman extracted the sperm from Vernoff's husband as he lay in a morgue.

Whether to grant such retrieval requests opened up an ethical minefield for hospitals as they grappled with questions such as the intent of the deceased.

"It's a very emotional time for the family, and to find someone to help them with these types of time-sensitive decisions is often quite challenging," said University of Wisconsin urologist Dr. Daniel Williams. "In addition, there are no federal laws that mandate what we here in the United States have to or don't have to do in these types of situations."

Many hospitals and ethics committees try to determine whether the deceased man wanted children, and some require that a living will be produced that specifies that intent, said Williams, who is president of the Society for Male Reproduction and Urology.

"Most men don't have something like this in writing," he said.

At New York-Presbyterian, only requests made by a spouse or life partner are considered. The hospital won't approve requests from parents who may want to save sperm to one day have a grandchild.

The hospital suggests women wait at least a year to go through with a pregnancy, which must be done through in-vitro fertilisation.

Schlegel said only two or three births have resulted from sperm retrievals done at the hospital since the 1990s. He said the hospital sometimes gets a few requests a year or none at all.

Officials from Woodhull Hospital, which is part of the city's public hospital system, would not comment on whether they had guidelines about sperm retrieval.

This article originally appeared on the New York Post and has been republished with permission.

News Corp Australia

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