Not many people think about the notion of a deceased man being able to be a father. But postmortem sperm retrieval is possible. It is becoming more prevalent, especially for families who mourn their loved one. For people who die young or suddenly – for example in a car accident – sperm retrieval after death is a way to preserve the sperm so that the deceased can still have a child with a loved one. The law has not quite caught up to the procedure so around the world there is ambiguity in terms of allowing the procedure to occur. Many domains that have thought about the procedure would require the person retrieving the sperm to be a spouse or family member. There have been reports of pregnancies resulting in sperm retrieval, and there is increasing interest in many parts of the world. There is not a lot of long-term data about children born via postmortem sperm retrieval.
How does sperm retrieval work after death? There are several main ways that sperm are harvested. One method is needle extraction which involves inserting a needle into the testis and drawing out some sperm. Another way is to extract the testis or epididymis surgically. Since the epididymis is where sperm go to mature, this tissue is a popular target. The doctor surgically removes the epididymis and milks it or otherwise separates the sperm from the tissue. Alternatively, the epididymis or a piece of testicular tissue can be frozen whole.
Early scientific literature advises doctors to extract and freeze a sperm sample within 24-36 hours of death. Still, case studies show that under the right conditions, viable sperm can survive well beyond this deadline.
There are ethical and legal dilemmas regarding postmortem sperm retrieval. Some do not believe it’s appropriate and lawmakers are not completely in agreement about how to apply the law. There is debate in terms of who should be allowed to retrieve the sperm and how the child born from the procedure will be allowed legal benefits like all other children. Also at contention is whether there is permission from the deceased. In cases of sudden death, there is usually no such document.
Weill Cornell Medical Center has put together information for post-mortem sperm retrieval including considerations that families should discuss before thinking about the procedure. For more information visit: