A British woman seeking to “harvest” and store her critically ill partner’s sperm has asked London’s High Court to review an authority’s decision to deny this request, court officials said on Wednesday.
Should people living in loving relationships be granted special access to each other’s gametes? That is the ethically-charged question currently before the High Court of Justice of England and Wales, where a complaint asks judges to overturn the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority’s (HFEA) decision to deny a woman’s request to collect and preserve the sperm of her partner on the grounds that he is in a critical condition and unable to provide the necessary consent. The woman, who is identified as “AB” in court documents, alleges that the authority has no right to interfere, as her partner would undoubtedly have provided his written consent if he had known it would become necessary.
The man, a purported investment banker identified as “P,” suffered a series of heart attacks late last year and has since been kept on life-support in a physical state that can only be described as deteriorative. As of this week, he relies on a tracheotomy for air and a so-called nasogastric tube for feeding. He is currently in a “permanent vegetative state” and is expected to die any day.
Potential Test Case
HFEA basically claims that, while AB’s lost prospect of starting a family with P is as heartbreaking as any other end-of-life narrative, the issue at hand is nothing to fuss about: “Harvesting” a person’s sperm is an invasion of privacy that naturally requires the written consent of the “harvestee.” The authority’s answer to the lawsuit further states that the hospital in question is not qualified to collect the sperm, as gametes cannot be collected "in circumstances where they cannot lawfully be stored.”
Richard Alamo, counsel for AB, counters that this particular situation should be deemed a special case exempt from the consent requirement, as P totally would have provided this consent “had he known he would be in his current state.” Alamo backs this by claiming that the couple’s relationship is a “common law marriage” — a non-existent legal status whose menacing social clout has prompted commentators to label it one of the UK’s biggest urban myths. "There is clearly a public interest in having this issue settled once and for all,” Alamo said, speaking to The Telegraph. “She [AB] wants to obtain a decision she genuinely and sincerely believes her partner would want."
Although courts are usually not fans of being told what other people think, want, or believe, AB’s complaint is rapidly reaching the highest rungs of the UK’s judiciary as a potential test case, thanks in part to another judge who on Christmas Eve granted an emergency application to begin the “sperm harvest” pending the case’s outcome. High Court Judge Sue Carr’s first order of business was to reverse this order on the grounds that it was wrong to issue it in the first place. At last check, the High Court had also denied a request for a so-called protective cost order — a piece of paper that limits the legal fees for which AB may become responsible.