Maternal instinct is not just restricted to human beings, many other animals also display similar emotions. However, it is only in human society that the family bonds cause the involvement of multiple individuals in different levels, causing complicated social and legal issues. The structure of family in the west is much different from what is the norm in the east. Attachment of married couple to their parents and the requirement of an heir to carry forward the family name have created complicated problematic issues, even in a regular medical condition like pregnancy.
Changing social scenario & effect of hectic lifestyle have given rise to their own set of problems and even solutions have blossomed fast from sincere efforts & human endeavours. Same sex couples & infertile couples taking help of sperm donor and surrogates for children is rather a well known fact known to most of the educated and aware members of the society. However, problems arise when a couple who did not complete their family and had wanted children, but can’t do so because of sudden death of a partner. Is it possible for dead people to have babies? The answer is yes, if certain preconditions are met. It seems this impossible event has been made possible in recent years, by advance of medical sciences & emergence of individuals who will not take a “no” for an answer. The following stories are testament of the magic that occurs, when the indomitable human spirit meets the marvel of modern day science. Although hard to believe, but every word described below is true.
In vitro fertilisation is a medical procedure used in assisted reproductive technology for treating infertility, in which the human ovum or egg is fertilised with the sperm outside the human body. A couple from China – Shen Jie and Liu Xi were having difficulty, in having a baby in the normal way. So after expert opinion they opted for In vitro fertilization and as a part of the procedure, several embryos (obtained by fusing the sperm and egg of the parents) were frozen and kept in storage to be later transferred to the mother.
An unfortunate car accident however ended the couple’s life, few days before the planned procedure of transferring of one embryo to Liu Xi. This sudden turn of events in year 2013, caused much anguish to the parents of the couple, who were hoping to be grandparents soon. They laid claim for the fertilized egg stored in a hospital, in Nanjing city of China. However, the laws regarding claim & possession of embryos by people, who are not parents, were in a gray area in China; as they are in majority of the countries. This created a legal battle between the grandparents and the hospital.
After much deliberation the grandparents were awarded the custody of the fertilized egg, with the precondition that, the fertilized eggs would have to be transferred from Nanjing hospital to another hospital agreeing to store them, before implanting the embryo into a surrogate. In this context, it would be useful to explain that a surrogate is a woman, who carries the fertilized egg in her uterus to term and gives birth to a viable child. Usually surrogacy is often done for financial gains & the surrogate mother does not have any legal claim to the baby, which she is giving birth to.
As surrogacy was against the law in China, the grandparents were placed in a precarious situation. Finally, they decided on enlisting the services of a surrogacy agency, in nearby country of Laos, where such legal restrains were not present. However, the frozen embryo present in a small bottle of liquid nitrogen was refused to be transported by airlines companies, citing regulations. The desperate grandparents drove the embryos, all the way to Laos, where an implantation on a surrogate was done successfully & pregnancy continued to term.
To ensure the Chinese citizenship of the baby, at the time of the baby’s birth, the surrogate mother was brought back to mainland China on a tourist visa, where she delivered the baby on December 2017. For removing all doubts about the boy’s parentage, the 4 grandparents took DNA test, to confirm their relationship to the new-born. The results of the test, which came positive made the grandparents overjoyed with the knowledge that their bloodline & family name would continue to live, long after they are gone.
The story of birth of babies from deceased individuals started much before the above mentioned case of China. Although the fact, that both the parents had expired, made the Chinese case special, but other anecdotes of wives giving birth to children, of their dead husbands, started much before.
The first story is about Stephen Blood and Diane Blood, a British couple. The series of unbelievable events started when Stephen Blood had an attack of meningitis in 1995. The couple had planned about having a family 2 months before, but Mrs Blood was not pregnant at that time. Unfortunately, the disease had progressed rather fast & the husband went into a coma and died soon after. In spite of no written instructions from Stephen Blood, two samples of sperms had been removed from Mr Blood (while he was in coma), on Mrs Blood’s request. However, the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (HFEA) of the country did not allow for the artificial insemination of the grieving widow by her dead husband’s sperm, without his legal written consent.
A legal battle ensued which culminated with the court of appeal, giving a historic judgement in favour of Mrs Blood. However, this permission came with an impediment. The court had decided that Mrs Blood could have her fertility treatment anywhere in Europe but not in United Kingdom. HFEA authorities allowed Mrs Blood to take her dead husband’s stored sperm, on condition that she attends a medical institution in Brussels – Centre for Reproductive Medicine at Brussel’s Free University. The doctors in the institution had their own doubts, so they took 9 months, before agreeing on the treatment. On 27 June 1998 Diane Blood announced her pregnancy to the world and gave birth to her son Liam on 11 December 1998. Mrs Blood used her deceased husband’s sperm once again later, for giving birth to her 2nd son – Joel on 17 July 2002. This is one of the first known successful stories of Posthumous Conception but certainly not the last.
History again repeated itself, when another similar event to those described above occurred in Great Britain and caused media frenzy in 2013. The details of the matter which was reported by media of the time are as follows. The laws in UK were the same as what was almost 20 years ago. Obtaining, storing, transporting and use for Invitro fertilisation of a man’s sperm without his written consent was still not allowed. In this case a financial executive – Mr H (full name withheld), with an undiagnosed heart condition, suddenly fell into coma. The attending doctors informed his wife (Mrs H) that, there was no chance of her husband getting back to normal, as his condition was beyond improvement. The wife obtained an emergency ruling from a judge, so that the medical team could extract and store her husband’s sperm, while efforts were made to search for any evidence of husband’s testimony. Unfortunately, no proof for the said was discovered & the husband, meanwhile passed away. The wife later was permitted to take the sperm sample to another country for IVF (In Vitro Fertilisation) treatment.
Detective Wenjian Liu, of New York Police department was shot along with his partner, in line of work on December 2014. Both the police officers succumbed to their injury. Unfortunately, officer Wenjian Liu and his wife Pei Xia Chen had been married for only three months, when the tragedy struck the couple. They had plans for children, but a twist of destiny appeared to thwart their plan. The grief struck wife requested the doctors to freeze her husband’s semen, in the night of his death, so it could be used later on.
Medical advance has made it possible, to collect healthy sperms within 24 hours of a man’s death, provided his genitalia does not suffer any injury. Investigations have proved that frozen sperm, obtained via testicular biopsy, is as good as fresh sperm, as far as successful pregnancy by IVF is concerned. In other words -- if the sperms are frozen properly, then In Vitro Fertilisation done subsequently, can have a success rate of 70 to 80 percent, provided the woman has a healthy reproductive system & normal fertility level.
Later Pei Xia Chen became pregnant, by in vitro fertilisation, using her husbands preserved semen. The story which had started with tragedy, had a happy ending when the police officer’s wife gave birth to a healthy girl, more than two and a half years after her husband’s death. The baby girl – Angelina, had come as a beacon of hope, for her mother as well as the parents of her slain father.
A news from July 2017 created quite a stir when a woman, who had died mid pregnancy, because of cerebral haemorrhage, gave birth to live babies more than 4 months after her death. A 21 year old woman – Frankielen da Silva Zampoli Padilha, from Campo Largo, south Brazil died after suffering a stroke during her pregnancy. However, the heartbeat of the 2, nine week old foetuses continued even after their mothers death and ultrasound confirmed that they were still holding on to life. Doctors and staff at Nosso Senhora do Rocio hospital, decided to do their best to try and save the babies developing in the womb of the deceased mother.
The brain-dead mother’s room in ICU was decorated with her pictures all around & the staff talked and sung to the developing babies in the mother’s womb, in an attempt to substitute their mother’s love. Frankielen’s organs were all intact and working, with the life support system, which ensured the growth of the babies. Thus, the brain dead woman was kept alive for 123 days (the longest ever, for this kind of cases), till the doctors believed that it was safe to deliver the twins by Caesarean section. The two premature babies – Ana Vitoria (weighing 1.4 kg) & Asaph (weighing 1.3 kg) were otherwise healthy and their weight corresponded to other premature babies, who were born at the same period of gestation.
The new-borns were kept in incubators for next 3 months for their proper growth and monitoring. The father of the babies considered their birth as a miracle, considering that the Doctor’s had tried their best to save the mother when she was first brought to the hospital, by giving her powerful antibiotics and sedatives and she had to undergo multiple CT scans – all of which were sufficient to end the life of babies. The hospital authorities had decided to give the husband, the dead body of his wife, once the heartbeat of the babies stopped – as there was no hope for the babies to survive.
The heartbeat of the babies in the womb of the brain dead mother continued for next 3 days; forcing the doctors to reconsider their decision. Doctor’s decided to try their best to save the babies, by continuing to keep the mother on life support system and under strict monitoring. After being discharged from hospital, the babies were given to Frankielen’s mother, for care as the father remains busy in his work. Although similar incidence of brain - dead mothers giving birth to live babies, have been reported from different parts of the world, no case comes close to the case discussed above, where babies grew in the womb of their mother, for 123 days after her brain death. Surely, the Lord does work in mysterious ways.
As the above discussion shows that rapid advance of medicine has come as a boon for many struck by a lose of a loved one. Unfortunately, the various scientific principles involved for the desired purpose, like Posthumous Conception, In Vitro fertilisation and Surrogacy; are still a costly proposition that many cannot afford.
The widespread ignorance prevalent in the society, government apathy, social stigma and lack of clearly formulated laws & their variability from one country to other, creates a very difficult situation for the people, who need this medicinal marvel in their life, the most. Hopefully increased awareness & resulting improvement of social, medicinal & governmental facets will lead to a future, where dreams of the people, would not die with the death of their body.