A survey by The Independent of fertility clinics found that 15 of them, some 30 per cent of those questioned, had carried out posthumous treatment in the past two years. From 24 cases where treatment was given, six babies were born in 1998. In the vast majority of the cases, sperm had been donated while the man was alive and stored because he was facing medical treatment that could damage his fertility. Only two clinics had taken sperm from dead men or comatose ones who then died.
Professor Bill Ledger, a consultant at the Jessop Hospital for Women in Sheffield, had acall in the middle of the night. "A woman called me from a mobile phone at the site of a car crash where a young man had just been killed," he said.
"This was a distraught mother who wanted someone to drive out there and collect sperm from her son so that she could have grandchildren."
All fertility clinics are licensed by the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, a government agency. It is illegal to take a man's sperm without his prior consent, which must be given in writing.
Fertility specialists believethe increase in women asking to use their dead husband or partner's sperm follows high-profile cases such as that of Diane Blood, who gave birth to a son last December using sperm collected while her husband was comatose.
She had to go to Belgium for insemination because her husband had not given his written consent for his sperm to be used. Although there is sympathy for women who yearn for their late husband's child, psychologists said that the potential effect on a child that could be born up to 10 years after the father's death was unclear.
Robert Edelmann, of the Roehampton Institute, London, an expert in the psychology of infertility, believes that the rights and welfare of the child should come first.
"With most fertility treatments it is increasingly becoming based on the desires and rights of the adult. If people actually sat back and said, `What would I want if I were that child?' I am not sure how many would pursue this posthumous treatment."
Dr Julian Norman-Taylor, director of fertility services at the BMI Chiltern Hospital in Great Missenden, Buckinghamshire, said: "To take sperm from a comatose or dead patient is technically possible, but personally I would be outraged."
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