A week after the death of a promising West Point cadet during a skiing accident, his parents have won the right to retrieve his sperm in hopes of carrying on their "family's lineage."
Peter Zhu, 21, who was president of the Cadet Medical Society and was expected to graduate from the U.S. Military Academy this year, died while skiing at the Victor Constant Ski Area on the school's grounds on February 23rd. He was found unresponsive on one of the slopes; according to the Army Times, the accident "fractured his spine and cut off oxygen to his brain."
Zhu was taken to Westchester Medical Center, and was declared brain dead four days later. "But because he was an organ donor, his body was kept alive until March 1st. In the two days between the death of his brain and the death of his body, Mr. Zhu’s grief-stricken parents — desperate to hold on to a piece of him and determined to pass their family name to the next generation — petitioned a state court to allow them to retrieve his sperm before his organs were removed," the NY Times reports.
The petition, filed on Friday, from Monica and Yongmin Zhu stated, "Peter’s death was a horrific, tragic and sudden nightmare that neither of us could have prepared for. We are desperate to have a small piece of Peter that might live on and continue to spread the joy and happiness that Peter brought to all of our lives."
The parents, based in Concord, California, also pointed out that Peter was their only male child, and hoped to obtain his sperm or else "it will be impossible to carry on our family's lineage, and our family name will die... When Peter was born, his grandfather cried tears of joy that a son was born to carry on our family’s name. Peter took this role very seriously, and fully intended to carry on our family’s lineage through children of his own."
The judge allowed the sperm to be collected later on Friday; it is being stored until a court hearing on March 21st.
Posthumous sperm retrieval raises numerous ethical questions as there is no governmental regulation over the procedure. The Supreme Court even unanimously ruled against a woman who tried to apply for her dead husband's Social Security benefits for children conceived after his death, with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writing, "We find the Social Security Administration's reading better attuned to the statute's text and its design to benefit primarily those the deceased wage earner actually supported in his or her lifetime."
In NYC, the widow of Carey Gabay, an aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo who was fatally shot during pre-dawn J’ouvert festivities in Brooklyn in 2015, harvested her dead husband's sperm after his death, and subsequently gave birth to their only child in 2018. The widow of assassinated NYPD detective Wenjian Liu was also able to conceive a child with sperm obtained after her husband's death in 2014.
A lawyer for the Zhu family said, "As you would expect, it is a very bittersweet result for the family and, out of respect for their privacy, we cannot discuss further at this time." The Army Times reports, "A memorial for Zhu will be held at West Point on Tuesday and a funeral service will be held Thursday at the academy’s cemetery."
On his LinkedIn, Zhu described himself for his bio: "Stamps Scholar, Goldwater Honorable Mention, Rhodes Finalist at the United States Military Academy at West Point majoring in Life Sciences with a passion in behavioral health. I aspire to serve as an Army physician-scientist. First-generation service member // First-generation Chinese American."