Stuff co.nz 24 April 2016
At least one potential surrogate has volunteered to be impregnated with sperm frozen before promising Auckland teenage filmmaker Cameron Duncan died 12 years ago.
The offers have breathed life into grieving mother Sharon Duncan’s dreams of creating a grandchild using her dead son’s sperm, which he banked when aged 15 before starting chemotherapy for bone cancer in 2002.
“They’ve had time to think about it, as the years have gone by.
“I think it’s really cool, I don’t have to go to a stranger – it’s someone in our circle,” she said.
If Cameron hadn’t lost his cancer fight in November 2003 when only 17 years old, he would have celebrated his 30th birthday this week, a milestone that has proved a sharp reminder to his mother that time is passing swiftly.
“He was an amazing young man who inspired many, many people through his films… I could think of nothing better than to produce a child from him,” Sharon said.
While New Zealand’s laws and regulations have blocked her plans to date, she has been granted an extra decade to keep his sperm frozen while she seeks a solution.
“But I don’t want to don’t want to wait 10 years because by then I’ll be nearly 70,” Sharon said.
“I’ve spent the last several years battling against irrelevant fertility reproductive laws in New Zealand, and I demand a change.”
Cameron banked sperm in 2002 because he was warned his cancer treatment could destroy his fertility and he wanted children in his future.
At the time, he signed a form at the fertility clinic gifting it to his mother if he died, but it failed to specify his frozen sperm’s use after death.
His family had not discussed what to do with the sperm before his death because they were so focused on his survival.
“The form he, and presumably, all other donors in 2002 signed, simply asked ‘in the case of your death, who do you leave the sperm to’, so he wrote my name,” Sharon said.
A few years after Cameron’s death, Sharon inquired at a fertility clinic to see if she could use his sperm with a surrogate to produce offspring to raise, but was told it was deemed illegal.
Under the 2004 Human Assisted Reproductive Technology (HART) Act, nobody has the right to use sperm stored by a minor aged under 16, except the person himself. An applicant to use the sperm has to show he gave consent for its use before dying.
However, Sharon believes that law does not apply to her case because it was introduced after Cameron’s death.
“I have always argued that he banked his sperm two years before that law existed, yet still [the Ethics Committee] maintain that ‘law’ remains applicable.
“These rewrites did not exist at the time of his signing, how can they apply to me now?”
Guidelines for the storage, use and disposal of sperm from a deceased man came into force in 2000, but they had no age specification.
In 2014, the Ethics Committee on Assisted Reproductive Technology granted her approval to keep her son’s sperm frozen for one year because a law change imposed a 10-year limit on storage of frozen gametes, embryos and other fertility tissue.
At the time, she was told she would have to prove how she could overcome the legal hurdles to use her teenage son’s sperm without his consent.
Last year, she sought another extension to keep the sperm frozen while she tried to make her dreams reality and was granted an extra 10 years.
Since then, she has spoken to Russian doctor Lemara Kelesheva, who is raising four grandchildren in Moscow after using her dead son’s sperm to impregnate two surrogates, who both had twins in 2011.
Her son had died of leukaemia in 2005 aged 23.
Meanwhile, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne said he was still waiting for more information before he could approve a proposed review of laws and regulations about collection, storage and use of gametes and embryos from dead and comatose people.