What to Know
- Parents of West Point cadet killed in skiing accident who sought permission to retrieve his sperm can decide what to do with it, judge ruled
- Parents of 21-year-old Peter Zhu petitioned a judge to let them retrieve his sperm before his son was taken off of life support
- Peter Zhu was the only male child in the family and they feared if they didn't get the genetic material they couldn't carry on their lineage
The parents of a 21-year-old West Point cadet killed in a skiing accident who sought permission to retrieve his sperm can take control of their son’s genetic material and decide what to do with it, a judge ruled.
U.S. Military Academy Cadet Peter Zhu was declared brain dead Feb. 27, four days after the California resident was involved in a skiing accident at West Point that fractured his spine and cut off oxygen to his brain.
Following Peter’s tragic death, his parents raced the clock March 1 to get a judge's permission to retrieve his sperm for "the possibility of preserving some piece of our child that might live on."
"That afternoon, our entire world collapsed around us," Monica and Yongmin Zhu of Concord, California, said in the court petition. But they saw a brief window to fulfill at least part of Peter's oft-stated desire to one day raise five children.
The parents asked a state court judge in March for permission to retrieve his sperm before his organs were removed for donation later that same day at Westchester Medical Center.
"We are desperate to have a small piece of Peter that might live on and continue to spread the joy and happiness that Peter bought to all of our lives," read the parent's filing in state court in Westchester County.
In March, New York Supreme Court Justice John Colangelo, of the 9th District, ordered that a hospital retrieve the sperm before he was taken off life support, following his parents’ request. The judge directed the medical center to retrieve the sperm and ordered it stored pending a subsequent court hearing regarding the next steps.
On Thursday, Peter’s parents’ wish came true, as Colangelo declared them the “proper parties to make decisions regarding the disposition the disposition of Peter’s genetic material. Accordingly, Petitioners’ application is granted to the extent that they shall possess and control the disposition and potential use of their son’s genetic material.”
Although Peter’s parents say their son left no specific direction regarding the posthumous use of his sperm, including how or whether it should be used for procreative purposes, they said it could be assumed based on prior actions and statements, according to Colangelo’s May 16 decision.
In his decision, the judge said he focused on “the decedent’s intent” and found Peter had repeatedly expressed a desire to have children to his parents, professors and mentors.
The first documented post-mortem sperm removal was reported in 1980 and the first baby conceived using the procedure was born in 1999, according to medical journals. Usually, the request comes from a surviving spouse.
The parents told the court that Peter is the only male child of the Zhu family and that if they don't obtain the genetic material, "it will be impossible to carry on our family's lineage, and our family name will die."
Such requests by parents are rare, but not unheard of.
In 2009, 21-year-old Nikolas Evans died after a blow during a bar fight in Austin, Texas. His mother, Missy Evans of Bedford, Texas, got permission from a probate judge to have her son's sperm extracted by a urologist, with the intention of hiring a surrogate mother to bear her a grandchild.
In 2018, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine issued ethical guidelines for fertility centers on posthumous collection of reproductive tissue. It said it's justifiable if authorized in writing by the deceased. Otherwise, it said, programs should only consider requests from the surviving spouse or partner.
Peter was president of the Cadet Medical Society and was planning to attend medical school at the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences.
"Peter was one of the top cadets in the Class of 2019, very well-known and a friend to all," Brig. Gen. Steve Gilland, commandant of cadets, previously said following Peter’s passing. "He embodied the ideals of the Corps of Cadets and its motto of Duty, Honor, Country and all who knew Peter will miss him."