Today’s technology allows sperm to be frozen for more than 50 years, which is the current legal limit in the UK. But the procedure raises questions from a moral and medical point of view.
Law change in Britain allows more babies to be born using sperm frozen 50 years ago, but scientists say there is no real reason to avoid even sperm refrigerated a few hundred years ago years.
This week, a boy was born using frozen sperm in 1996, harvested when his father, aged 21 at the time, was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The procedure was carried out in the event that the treatment Peter Hickles was undergoing would have caused infertility.
The miracle child was born from samples frozen 26 years ago
The baby, who his now 47-year-old father considers a miracle, came close to holding the world record for the longest time from sperm collection to birth. The little one was, however, surpassed by a baby born in the United States of America with the help of a frozen sperm sample 27 years ago.
When Peter Hickles’ biological sample was refrigerated, he thought the sample would only be viable for 10 years. This is because, despite the fact that scientists claim that the technology has been developed for several decades, there was no legal framework. Until now, there was a law in place that only 10 eggs and sperm could be kept.
Sperm has a maximum shelf life of 55 years
Currently, the time limit for keeping evidence is 55 years, but Allan Pacey, a professor at Sheffield University, said there was no medical reason for the decision to keep this figure.
“The 55-year limit has nothing to do with sperm validity or any other scientific reasoning. It’s more about what the lawmakers thought was fair to society. But since the sperm is frozen, I don’t see why it can’t be preserved for hundreds of years, if the law allows it,” explained the specialist, quoted by The Guardian.
He also emphasized that there are no suspicions that the use of an older sample would represent a risk from a medical point of view. On the other hand, there are also no studies to support this theory, except for those conducted for the cattle industry. And in the absence of concrete data, such research could hardly obtain funding, especially because the cases of children born with the help of decades-old samples are rare.
But if this were possible, descendants of historical figures could theoretically be born. Moral issues also come into play in this matter. If refrigerated sperm could be used 250 years ago, it would raise more questions, because society and the human genome have changed radically in the meantime, the scientists also draw attention.