Icky And Unethical: The Dead Cadet’s Child

A New York judge  ruled that the parents of  West Point cadet Peter Zhu, 21, who was declared brain-dead after a skiing accident, can take sperm harvested from his body with “no restriction.” The parents say they want  to fulfill  their son’s lifelong desire to have children and continue the family name.

Lauren Sydney Flicker, a bioethicist and expert in post-mortem sperm retrieval at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx [there is such a thing as being an expert in post-mortem sperm retrieval?]  told the New York Times,

“Here is the ethical debate, and it will be different for different people: Is it a greater ethical burden to prevent someone from having the opportunity to be a father by passing along their genetic material? Or is it a greater ethical burden to have a man father a child, without his consent, that he wouldn’t be around to raise?”

Huh? I’d say the burden of not living pretty much wipes out the burden of not being a father, and renders it moot. Absent explicit instructions that the young man wanted his sperm used to spawn a child after he died,  the cadet’s desires regarding a family while he was planning on being alive are rendered moot by his death.

The ethical issue doesn’t involve Peter Zhu at all. He’s not really “fathering a child,” and he doesn’t care what happens to his sperm. He’s dead. The child is only his in the most technical and meaningless sense; he isn’t responsible for it. The ethical question involves the child, and only the child. Is it ethical to create a human being that will have no natural father so it can be raised by grandparents, and also have him or her be burdened with the job of being a living souvenir for Peter’s grieving parents?

This one is both icky and unethical.

16 thoughts on “Icky And Unethical: The Dead Cadet’s Child

  1. ““Here is the ethical debate, and it will be different for different people: Is it a greater ethical burden to prevent someone from having the opportunity to be a father by passing along their genetic material? Or is it a greater ethical burden to have a man father a child, without his consent, that he wouldn’t be around to raise?””

    Gibberish is what it sounds like.

  2. Flicker’s quote reminds me of the stuff I was introduced to in college that made me say (at the time) “ethics is fungible nonsense pretending to be morality”. As tasteless as that “different for different people” waffling is to me though, you have to be hating it with a fury visible from space.

  3. Are the grandparents trying to create a caregiver for themselves given their son is no longer alive to do so? I would wager the bioethicist would say it is unethical to burden a child conceived for that purpose. I would.

    I believe it is customary in some cultures that the young provide for their elders financially whwn they are no longer economically or physically self sufficient.

    • That would be Chinese culture, CM. And I’m not even sure the obligation only arises when the elders are no longer economically or physically self-sufficient. I think the obligation arises whenever the elders say it does. The duty also extends to the first born son’s younger or older sisters and usually involves, among other responsibilities, housing all of them in the son’s home. So my wife was told by a Chinese American guy who reported to her.

      • Thank you for the details. I am always hesitant to attribute any cultural behavior to a specific group when I cannot remember specifics.

        • I’m not at all sure it’s limited to the Chinese, Chris. It may be pretty common throughout Asia and South Asia. A Pakistani descended friend (from London via Uganda) took care of (and housed) his entire family, including grand parents, parents and sisters. He was his mother’s first born son. Vietnamese families are pretty darned tight as well.

  4. Our society is really screwed up!

    On one hand we have groups of people that want to kill a completely helpless human being while still in the womb, and on the other hand we have people wanting to forcibly remove sperm from a dead persons body so they can force that dead person to become a father.

    Why the hell should we as a society wonder why other societies look at us as if we’re the ones who are nuts?

    What a fucked up world we live in.

  5. Yeah, this is an unsteady claim, as we don’t know if he really wanted kids. But would it still be as icky if he HAD already made donations at a sperm bank? How is this different from sperm banks? It’s still the same material, he could be just as dead and unable to interact with a child. Making a donation would be evidence that he wanted kids. We just don’t know if he wanted kids, except from the grieving.

    I think the parents are probably having trouble getting through the stages of grief (of whatever flavor their subcuture holds) and this turns their attention from the brain dead son to the living grandchild. This just raised issues beyond the parents allowing cornea donations. I’d prefer some oversight that the child won’t be pressured to become a replacement. I’m still on the fence about if it should be allowed as the parents are unreliable narrators. But say, if there was confirmation, I like the possibility of a new start instead of endings, and I’m pretty confident the child will be different from dad.

    • But would it still be as icky if he HAD already made donations at a sperm bank?

      That’s a fine question. I really don’t know, but at least it would’ve cleared up any confusion about whether or not he wanted to preserve the ability to father children against something.

      I don’t think it answers the harder question about whether or not he would want to father a child he had no opportunity to help raise. Apparently, he took the answer to that question with him to the hereafter.

  6. This is utterly morbid.

    Isn’t it nice that our families can decide what we wanted when we’re no longer around to gainsay them, and by using that excuse, can justify even using a dead man’s sperm to produce a child that will never know his father?

    Isn’t the whole point of becoming a father to … you know, be present to raise your child? If not, why should men have to pay child support when they willy-nilly impregnate women? After all, if you don’t need a present father, why do you need his money?

    Ah, this is just one more disgusting idiocy the 21st century has foisted upon us.

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