Attorney-General Eliyakim Rubinstein's legal guidelines, released on Thursday, would spare many Israeli widows a court battle should they wish to bear their dead husbands' children.

 

"In a situation where a partner is interested in having a child with the sperm of the deceased it is appropriate to allow her to do so," Rubinstein said.

 

But Rubinstein said a widow would not be able to claim the sperm if the husband had clearly indicated while alive that he did not want it used for artificial insemination of his spouse after his death.

 

Unprecedented

 

Guido Pennings, a member of the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE) ethics committee, said he knows of no other country that allows wives or life partners to remove sperm from the deceased without prior written consent.

 

"In a situation where a partner is interested in having a child with the sperm of the deceased it is appropriate to allow her to do so"

Eliyakim Rubinstein,
Attorney-General, Israel

The Israeli directive also applies to common law wives, or life partners, but does not extend to parents or other relatives.

 

Doctors have only 24 to 36 hours after a man dies to harvest sperm that can be frozen and used for impregnation.

   

Women who have had to go to court to demand sperm be harvested often miss this critical deadline. But the new ruling would give medical clinics permission to heed the widows' wishes immediately.

   

The widow will then be able to submit an official request to a court to use the sperm which will then examine whether the dead husband would have wanted to father a child posthumously.

   

The directive effectively becomes law unless overturned by court appeal or the passing of legislation to the contrary.

   

Both appear unlikely as Israeli courts are generally liberal on fertility issues as is parliament in one of the few countries in the world where the government pays for fertility treatment for its citizens.