Letter: Sperm ruling has ancient echoes

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The Independent Online
Sperm ruling has ancient echoes

Sir: The Court of Appeal's ruling in favour of Mrs Blood's campaign to have a child using her deceased husband's sperm (report, 7 February) has been hailed as a victory for "common sense". It can also be seen as a victory for "family values".

Amongst the ancient Hebrews, and in many patriarchal societies around the world, death does not terminate marriage. A dead man's brother stands in for him, taking his widow as partner, in order to produce children (ideally sons) in his name - a practice known as "levirate", from the Latin levir, "brother-in-law".

The presumption here is that men seek to perpetuate themselves through their heirs. They are not expected to leave oral, far less written, legal instructions recording their consent - as the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority appears to require. From this wider cross-cultural perspective, the authority's intervention here seems a bizarre intrusion into what are strictly family issues.


Emeritus Professor of Anthropology

The London School of Economics and Political Science

London WC2