Court orders sperm removal from deceased

In what is an increasingly common circumstance, in April 2015 Burns J of the Supreme Court of Queensland granted an application by a Ms Patteson for the removal of her deceased fiance’s testes and sperm. The judgment was made ex tempore – on the spot – in light of the urgent nature of the case. The applicant’s fiance had, sadly, died the night before the judgment. For sperm of a deceased man to remain viable, they must be harvested and properly stored within 24 hours of death. The judge had to decide the matter immediately.

In such urgent applications, it is not the court’s role to approve the use of the sperm for fertilisation. The applicant must make a further application to use the sperm. Burns J made it clear that the court’s jurisdiction in this case extended only to approval of the removal of the testes and sperm. Ms Patteson, he said, could return to the court ‘after mature reflection’ to make an application for the use of the sperm for the purpose of fertilisation.

While far from the first such judgment, there is one aspect that has arisen before and that prompts some thinking about the basis on which such judgments are made. In doing so, no judgment is made of the applicant or her circumstances, which should at all times be respected. On the contrary, the issues underlying such judgments speak to the system and how the law should consider the body of a deceased.

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