Israeli High Court of Justice Allows Sperm Donor to Take Back His Sample

As Ha’aretz reports, (H/T Melanie Mader and Nir Eyal) the Israeli High Court of Justice has just decided a fascinating reproductive technology case. As the article reports:

Galit is a 39-year-old single mother who has a three-year-old daughter conceived through a sperm donation. After giving birth, Galit (who preferred that her real name not be revealed) purchased five more samples of sperm from the same donor and paid an annual fee to store them for her. When Galit, who lives in Florida, decided to try to become pregnant again she bought a plane ticket to Israel for that purpose. But one night, she got a surprising phone call. “I was told coldly that the donor had changed his mind. He had changed his lifestyle, become religiously observant and had written a letter to the Health Ministry confirming this. The caller ended by saying, ‘Of course we will return the payment for storing the sperm’ – a small, negligible amount.” At first, Galit continues, “I thought someone was playing a prank on me. I felt that my feelings were being totally ignored. This was about my future children. Maybe I wouldn’t be able to have more children from that donor, and therefore my daughter would not have biological siblings.”

Galit launched a legal battle, which ended two weeks ago with a High Court of Justice ruling rejecting her request to receive the sperm she had paid for. The court found that the donor’s right to change his mind after making the donation takes precedence over the recipient’s right to use the sperm in order to give birth to biological siblings for her daughter.

As it happens, these are the exact issues I wrote about in 2008 in a pair of articles, The Constitution and The Rights Not to Procreate, 60 Stan. L. Rev. 1135 (2008) and The Right Not to Be a Genetic Parent, 81 S. Cal. L. Rev. 1115 (2008). I have yet to get a hold of a translation of the new judgment into English, but from the reporting it seems as though the Court agreed in part and disagreed in part with the analysis I offer in these papers (particularly the latter one):

They agree with me that there is a “Right Not to Be a Genetic Parent” and my argument that it is best conceived of as a right to avoid a kind of emotional distress from what I call “attributional parenthood” — the attribution by oneself, third parties, and/or the resulting child of unwanted parenthood. Where we seem to part ways is that I view this as a right capable of waiver, and argue that it should clearly be waiveable by contract, which there appears to be in this case, while the Israeli High Court appears to treat it more as an inalienable right.

I may have more to say once I’ve read the whole opinion in English, but for now one sociological fact: As Ellen Waldman among others has noted, and born out by my own time teaching there, Israel is an incredibly pro-natalist society that strongly funds and favors the use of reproductive technology and family formation in general. This case is thus interestingly at variance with others the Israeli judiciary has decided in the reproductive technology context, such as the Nachmani v. Nachmani case (involving a dispute over frozen pre-embryos) where the court has been more disposed to favoring the right to be a genetic parent and allowing reproduction despite disputes.

The article reports that Galit will seek rehearing in front of a larger panel of the High Court soon, so perhaps this is not the end of the litigation.

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