Only Wife Has The Right Over A Deceased Man’s Sperms, Observes Calcutta High Court
In our culture, there’s an over-sentimentality around clan and lineage, putting unnecessary pressure on people to produce a progeny. Isn’t this one of the reasons a son is preferred over a daughter? We need someone to carry our surname forward to the next generation, they say. This obsession has done a lot of damage, ranging from infanticide, foeticide as well as forced marriages and pregnancies. However, in a unique case, this obsession has a father challenging the rights of his son’s widow by claiming his frozen sperm. What am I hearing?
A man suffering from thalassemia had frozen his sperms at a Delhi fertility centre so he and his wife could plan a pregnancy later on. However, since he passed away, his father seems to have become restless. The deceased’s father took to the court to seek the sperms in order to carry his family name forward. Maybe he’d like to find a surrogate mother or an egg donor. I don’t know. But last I checked, this is a matter between a married couple and just because the man passed away, it doesn’t mean his parents can come claiming his baby-producing fluid.
The Calcutta High Court dismissed the father’s plea, and rightfully so. The court observed that only the widow has the right over her late husband’s sperm. Just by being a parent, one doesn’t hold any right over it and the father’s request was dismissed as unjust. “The father had moved the high court in March 2020, saying their daughter-in-law had not only refused to give them the nod to get the sperm, but also refused to acknowledge their pleas. The father feared that if the sperm was destroyed, or unused, during the period of agreement with the hospital sperm bank, “they are going to lose their clan”,” reported Times of India.
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According to the deceased man’s father, he was getting treated for his thalassemia in a Delhi hospital. Soon after, he got married to a woman from Delhi itself with “the consent of the family” and the couple later moved to West Mednapur in West Bengal. However, he passed away suddenly and the father requested the hospital to not destroy the preserved sperms. But the hospital responded saying that it is the wife who will have to take a call on what should be done – whether she wants it, keep it for longer, or discard it. If the father wants to get a hold of his son’s sperms (a sentence I never thought I’d type out!) he will have to obtain a No Objection Certificate from the wife. But turns out, the wife isn’t keen on giving him that, at least not yet.
But it’s not like men are comfortable with a woman holding any authority. Women’s rights? A wife’s rights? What are those concepts? His father hasn’t cut the umbilical cord, strangely, and continues to feel he has more right over his progeny and his progeny’s progeny. Just by being his father, he says he has the “right to collect such sperm, irrespective of the permission of the wife of the deceased.”
The Calcutta High Court maintained that since the couple was married at the time of his death, the only person who has any claim over the sperms is his wife. The court added that the “father-son relationship of the petitioner and the deceased does not entail any such right of the petitioner to the progeny of his son. As such, the right espoused by the petitioner for himself is illusory and nonexistent.”
The wife of the deceased hasn’t commented on whether she intends to use it or discard it and she doesn’t owe anyone that explanation.
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There have been some cases in which women have used the sperms of their deceased husbands to reproduce. Back in the 90s, a British woman, Diane Blood, had to fight tooth and nail to be allowed to conceive using sperms extracted from her husband when he was in a coma. British laws state that you need the donor’s written consent to be able to use his semen. However, her husband passed away while in coma. She fought hard to obtain a go-ahead from the court to travel to Belgium to have the IVF procedure done, where the laws permit it.
It’s very rare for a deceased man’s sperms to be used but the natural ownership goes to the wife. I understand, the father is fighting out of sentiments but it’s time to take a step back, look at women’s rights, and how the obsession of the clan can put us at risk.