The parents of a cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who died following a skiing accident last month successfully petitioned a court to allow them to extract their son’s sperm, citing plans to preserve his legacy and his dream of having children one day.
The court order, filed in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in Westchester County on Friday, granted the petition to the parents of 21-year-old senior Peter Zhu, who was left brain dead after suffering a fractured spine on Feb. 23, The Washington Post reported.
“When Peter was alive, he often told us how he wanted children of his own one day, and that he wanted to give us grandchildren,” his parents, Yongmin and Monica Zhu of Concord, California, stated in their filing. “There was never any question or doubt that Peter intended to become a father.”
Zhu, who was an organ donor and set to graduate this spring before attending medical school, according to the academy, was an only son and his parents’ only hope of carrying on the family’s last name, per Chinese culture, his parents said.
Westchester Medical Center Health Network, where Zhu had his organs harvested for donation last Friday, had agreed to perform the sperm retrieval, but only if a court order was issued, The Journal News reported.
The judge granted Zhu’s parents’ request the same day the procedure was scheduled to be performed, to give the sperm a greater chance of vitality. The order directed that the sperm be transferred to a sperm bank or similar facility for storage, according to The Journal News.
Representatives with Westchester Medical Center Health Network declined to comment on the case to HuffPost on Tuesday.
“Out of respect for patient and family privacy, we do not discuss the specifics of any particular patient case. However, from time to time, like most hospitals, Westchester Medical Center is presented with complex legal and ethical situations where guidance from the court is appropriate and appreciated. Westchester Medical Center is grateful the family sought a court order during such a difficult time,” the medical center said in a statement.
A second court hearing has been scheduled for March 21, during which the court will address what will become of the sperm, according to The Associated Press.
The family’s attorney, Attorney Joseph R. Williams, also declined to provide further details about the case but called it “bittersweet” in an email to HuffPost.
“While we are extremely proud of the successful and landmark efforts made so far on behalf of our clients, the case remains pending, necessitating our discretion,” he said in a statement. “As you would expect, it is a very bittersweet result for the family and, out of respect for their privacy, we cannot discuss further at this time.”
The case, while unusual, is not entirely unique.
In 2009, a mother in Texas obtained a court order to retrieve her 21-year-old son’s sperm after he died in a bar fight. Missy Evans said she planned to hire a surrogate to give birth to her grandchild.
As for the ethics involved, there appear to be different opinions on the matter.
One stance published in the peer-reviewed journal Human Reproduction in 2000 states that in the absence of written consent or verbal consent documented by a health care provider, “it can sometimes be reasonable to infer” that the deceased would have consented to a postmortem sperm retrieval if their family and friends have said that they had expressed such a desire while alive.
Weill Cornell Medicine’s urology department, in contrast, gives the decedent’s wife the exclusive ability to make such a request ― no other family or next of kin. The wife must also provide convincing evidence that her husband would have wanted to conceive children this way, according to the department’s website.