Sperm should be added to the list of human tissue that can be donated after death, which would help plug the UK-wide gap in supply, they say.
The authors say it is not just technically feasible but “ethically permissible”, due to its potential to alleviate the suffering caused when would-be parents struggle to access donor sperm.
Dr Nathan Hodson, of the College of Life Sciences, University of Leicester, and Joshua Parker, of the Department of Education and Research, Wythenshawe Hospital, Manchester, wrote: “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.”
The UK currently relies on importing samples from specialist sperm banks based abroad in order to keep up with increasing demand, the article says.
The authors argue it is important to secure a reliable source of sperm, given “the immense value of having the ability to reproduce”.
While infertility is not considered a life-threatening disease, “life-enhancing” transplants from living donors, for example corneal transplants, currently take place.
They wrote: “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 envisage a situation where men could indicate during life that they have a preference to donate sperm after death.
The sperm would be extracted after death either surgically or via electric shocks to the prostate to stimulate ejaculation. It would then be frozen until selection for use.
The authors say there is a chance that living donations may decrease if donations after death were permitted, but that it is more likely to result in a net gain overall given the small number of living donors.
Increasing the donor pool could also increase the variety of donor sperm, allowing some families to satisfy their preferences for certain characteristics in their offspring.
For example, this could involve matching the race of the donor to the parents to avoid “shame and stigma” that can be “very real” for certain racial groups, the authors wrote.
Posthumous sperm donation could also overcome some barriers, such as loss of anonymity and time, which prevent men from donating sperm during their lifetime, they add.
Some would-be parents may prefer to use sperm from a donor who is no longer alive, they say, as it could “provide a degree of simplicity when thinking about that child's future in terms of potential future interactions with their donor”.
Family members of the deceased may take some comfort in knowing their loved one is living on by helping others after their death.
This process must be managed, however, to ensure they do not develop “unrealistic” expectations about their relationship to any resulting child, they warn.
The authors acknowledge concerns that health issues experienced by the donor may be passed to the child through genes carried by the sperm.
They say that this could be minimised by screening donors and sperm - safeguards already in place with living donors.
The “thorniest question” regarding the donor's family relates to their right to “veto” their loved one's wishes, an existing element of the UK's current solid organ donation policy.
They conclude: “Although this is a promising alternative method of obtaining donor sperm, several questions remain.
“Some of these questions parallel ongoing debates in organ donation, although the use of donated reproductive material might alter the nature of questions about consent and the family veto.
“Other questions regarding quality of consent and integrity of donor anonymity also have comparisons in living gamete donation.
“Finally, artificial reproductive techniques funding in the UK remains contentious, so it is unclear who would pay for voluntary non-directive postmortem gamete donation.”
The analysis is published in the Journal of Medical Ethics.
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