A woman in the US has spoken out on her decision to extract sperm from the body of her dead husband.
Ana Clark hired a doctor to remove and preserve the sperm in the hope that she could one day posthumously conceive a child with her husband, Michael, who had died suddenly in a tragic accident.
"“It gave me a sense of hope that he wasn’t going to be gone for ever, that I was going to be able to have a piece of him that was still alive. Just for me. My very own little piece of my Mike," she told Mosaic Science.
Ana and Michael, 25, had been married for a year when Michael, who was a sergeant in the Marine Corps, was ordered to go overseas for his fifth deployment.
The couple decided to enjoy a last holiday together before he left and headed off on a motorcycle ride along a California highway. On their way back to the highway after lunch, Michael lost control of their bike and the pair drove off the side of a cliff. Ana survived but, tragically, Michael did not.
While recovering in hospital from spine and shoulder fractures, Ana mourned not just the loss of her husband, but also the future children the pair had planned to have together.
"We had talked about it maybe a week or two before he passed because he was going on the deployment, and he said, ‘Yeah, you know it’s too bad that we can’t go to a sperm bank now and freeze sperm … I have way too much to do at work,’” she recalled.
It wasn't until a friend suggested she take sperm from Michael's body that Ana began to seriously consider the idea. After googling the process and calling a number of doctors recommended by a sperm bank, she found someone willing to perform the procedure: Martin Bastuba, the founder and medical director of Male Fertility and Sexual Medicine Specialists clinic in San Diego.
She then hired a hearse to transport Michael's body 100 miles from the hospital in Riverside to San Diego and back again. Dr Bastuba successfully removed and froze Michael's sperm, which Ana has been in possession of for almost two years.
Speaking of her desire to keep Michael's sperm, she said, “He was a very, very good man. He was a very good Marine, and to know that I would be able to carry a form of legacy, someone that was going to continue the path as the hero he was, I think that’s what really motivated me.”
Ana now plans to save the sperm for another couple of years until she completes her Master's degree, when she can comfortably provide for the couple's child. She is "absolutely" determined to have Michael's child, whether or not she meets another partner.
"I don’t want children with anyone else, I only want them with my husband," she said.
"Whoever I do choose to be with is definitely going to have to accept that this is something I am going to do, and there is nothing they can do about it."
Although it sounds unusual, the process of removing sperm from a dead body has been practised for nearly 40 years. Experts recommend the sperm is removed and frozen within 24-36 hours of death, although last year a "happy healthy baby" was born in Australia from sperm taken from his father's body 48 hours after his death.
The first ever post-mortem sperm extraction took place in the late 1970s, when a Los Angeles based urologist, Cappy Rothman, was asked to remove the sperm of a prominent politician's son who had been left brain dead after a car crash. Rothman, who later co-founded America's largest sperm bank, California Cryobank, described the procedure as making him feel like "Michelangelo... It was an education".
However, the first live birth from post-mortem sperm extraction didn't occur until 1999, when Gaby Vernoff gave birth to a child conceived with sperm removed from her husband's body 30 hours after he died.
There are few statistics on post-mortem sperm extraction but figures suggest the process is gaining popularity in the US. Rothman estimates there have been 200 extractions at California Cryobank, with just three taking place in the 1980s, 15 taking place in the 1990s, and then a huge jump to 130 extractions from 2000 to 2014.
However, Rothman believes widowers request extraction more as an act of grief than for practical reasons. Of the 200 extractions himself and Bastuba have performed, only two have been used.
"What I’m finding is most of the time it’s done to [ease] the immediate grief of a family with a loss," he said.
Here in the UK, it is legal to posthumously remove sperm from a man if he has given prior written consent.
This ruling was brought to the public's attention in 1996, when widower Diane Blood was banned from using her deceased husband's sperm to conceive as he had not given written consent. The decision was overturned in a historic ruling in 1997 when courts ruled that, as her husband had died suddenly from meningitis, she could seek insemination in Europe, although not the UK.
The process is currently illegal in France, Germany, Sweden and Canada.