Doctors preserve sperm taken from corpse

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The Independent Online
New York - Fast action by a New York surgeon who removed sperm from the corpse of a man 13 hours after he died may lead to the procedure becoming commonplace in the United States, in spite of unanswered ethical questions, writes David Usborne.

Publicity surrounding the case, involving Anthony Baez, 29, who died while in police custody just before Christmas, prompted doctors in a Chicago hospital last weekend to perform the same operation on a man who had been killed in a road accident. Sperm remains alive in the body for 24 hours after death.

Baez's widow, Mirabel Baez, asked doctors while an autopsy was being carried out on her husband to preserve his sperm. The procedure was performed by Dr Peter Schlegel, a urologist at the New York Hospital, Cornell Medical Center.

Cornell is renowned for extracting weak sperm from men with low potency and successfully using them for fertilisation. Dr Schlegel is not aware that sperm has ever been removed from a dead man before for the same purpose, however.

"A key component was that the wife and the family had the presence of mind to think of it," he said. Dr Schlegel removed the sperm by making an incision in the cord that carries the sperm from the testes to the penis. The sample was then transferred to alaboratory where it remains frozen in nitrogen. It should remain viable for 20 years.

The procedure raises the question of conferring paternity on a man after his death and without consent. Experts confirm it may be possible to remove eggs from women after death, giving rise to the possibility that a child could be conceived after both its parents are dead.