Population-based study of attitudes toward posthumous reproduction

Capsule:
Almost half of the general public supports posthumous reproduction. Age, education, income, political party, currently attempting conception, supporting in vitro fertilization, and organ donation were all associated with support.

Authors:
Sara E. Barton, M.D., Katharine F. Correia, M.A., Shirley Shalev, Ph.D., Stacey A. Missmer, Sc.D., Lisa Soleymani Lehmann, M.D., Ph.D., Divya K. Shah, M.D., Elizabeth S. Ginsburg, M.D.

Volume 98, Issue 3, Pages 735-740.e5, September 2012

Abstract:

Objective:
To measure public attitudes toward posthumous reproduction.

Design:
Cross-sectional.

Setting:
Electronic survey.

Patients:
1,049 men and women living in the United States between the ages of 18 and 75 years.

Interventions:
Multiple-choice questionnaire.

Main outcome measures:
Descriptive statistics regarding support for posthumous reproduction, such as regarding emergency harvesting of gametes, and attitudes toward consent; multivariable analyses of demographic and personal experiences associated with support for posthumous reproduction.

Results:
47.8% supported and 31.1% opposed retrieving gametes from men, and 42.7% supported and 35.9% opposed retrieving gametes from women. The remainder was undecided. Among supporters, 69.8% believed prior consent from the deceased was required. Support was positively associated with younger age, higher education, higher income, Democratic political party affiliation, history of infertility, and currently attempting conception (p

Conclusions:
Almost 50% of the general population support posthumous reproduction in men and women. The majority favored prior consent from the deceased. These data caution against emergency gamete harvesting without prior consent.

  • This was an interesting study which highlights some important issues. While many couples or family members may discuss posthumous organ donation or end of life care, the topic of posthumous reproduction is rarely broached. As this study states that over 95% had never discussed the topic with a loved one, it may not even come to mind until the couple presents for IVF or confronts the issue of unused embryos in the event of separation or death of a partner. Especially since the majority of those surveyed here favored prior consent, perhaps we should also ask ourselves “what is the best way to have couples initiate this discussion amongst themselves?”

    I would also be interested in knowing the reasons for favoring or opposing the issue. In many posthumous reproduction guidelines, these children are regarded as biological children of the deceased but not an official heir and would not receive an inheritance. I wonder if that would factor into the decision of the men and women in this survey.

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