Peter Zhu in his official cadet photo
West Point cadet Peter Zhu was at the top of his class and beloved by friends and family alike.

In a case that has some medical ethicists scratching their heads, the parents of 21-year-old West Point cadet Peter Zhu, who was fatally injured in a tragic skiing accident in February, have obtained the legal right to produce a grandchild from his frozen sperm.

New York Supreme Court Justice John Colangelo ruled that Zhu’s parents could extract his sperm and attempt conception with a surrogate mother. Although Yongmin and Monica Zhu haven’t yet decided if they will, in fact, do so, all signs point to yes.

“Peter’s death was a horrific, tragic and sudden nightmare that neither of us could have prepared for,” wrote the Concord, California couple in the court filing. “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.” Peter was the couple’s only son.

Peter Zhu was declared brain dead less than a week after fracturing his spinal cord. Shortly thereafter, the decision was made to remove him from life support. But before he passed, Zhu’s parents petitioned the court last minute to harvest his sperm. The judge acted quickly; Sperm retrieval would not be possible after organ harvesting, which was scheduled for 3 p.m. on a Friday. The family filed their petition at 9:38 a.m. that morning and the judge granted the request two hours later. That afternoon, a urologist retrieved the sample.

Zhu Wanted Children

After his death, Peter’s parents testified in court about his desire to have children. They argued that as an only male child, he felt a unique responsibility to carry on his family legacy. In Chinese culture, only sons can pass down the family name. “When Peter was born, his grandfather cried tears of joy that a son was born to carry on our family’s name,” said his parents. “Peter took this role very seriously, and fully intended to carry on our family’s lineage through children of his own.”

Zhu’s military adviser at West Point corroborated that idea, recalling similar discussions with Zhu during their mentoring sessions. And in a school assignment, Zhu wrote of his desire to get married and have children before turning 30.

No Easy Answers

But is the whole situation an ethical quandary? The NY judge determined that no restrictions in state or federal law prevented the parents from using their son’s preserved sperm to create an heir. However, he noted ethical concerns surrounding postmortem reproduction would make many doctors reluctant to assist with the procedure. And depending on where the baby is born, Zhu may not even be legally eligible to be listed as the father.

In fact, some bioethicists expressed concern with a ruling that puts a deceased man’s reproductive decision into the hands of his parents at all. The parents, along with a female participant, are now able to essentially ‘play God’ and create life from Peter’s sperm. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine recently issued ethical guidelines on posthumous sperm harvesting. Their conclusion? It’s acceptable if explicitly approved in writing, or requested by surviving spouses or partners. Zhu had no known partners and had not explicitly made a written request of that nature.

What do you think? Was the court right to grant Peter’s reproductive material to his parents without explicit written permission?

Or are the parents playing God just to carry on the family name?

24 comments

  1. Lionheart says:

    How nice that his lineage can continue.

    🦁❤️

    1. Kawika says:

      Great Idea…! I love new answers to old situations…

      BRAVO!

  2. John Eftimiades says:

    So Peter Zhu’s 46 chromosomes are a product of his mom and dad. And the parents wish to unite his 23 chromosomes with a female, presumably a Chinese female and in that way he will live on? Am I reading this right? Do the parents want their son’s sperm to be artificially inseminated to a female host who will then turn over the child to them. What if it’s a girl. Do they abort because they want a boy. What if the host disagrees. I don’t know, I am sorry for their horrific loss. Perhaps it wouldn’t be news if they had a second child. But in anyway this is not a healthy way to work through your grief. If your child stood for anything there are so many ways to honor his loss. This is entirely self serving and although it may not be illegal, it certainly cuts across societal mores.

    1. Laurie Cleveland says:

      They have a daughter, but in Chinese culture, as in many cultures, boys are preferred over girls. Many times girls are aborted or put up for adoption because the parents want a boy. Lineage is lineage, but I can understand that the parents want to keep the family name alive and women when they marry take on the husband’s name. In my family, I had 2 older brothers, one who never married and the other one had girls. I had a girl, but my daughter had all boys. It’s interesting the variations in sex. The first question I would ask is this. The boy was going into the military as a regular officer. What would happen if the young man was killed in action? There would be no way to get the sperm or viable DNA. What happened is tragic, no question about it, but depending upon how old the parents were, they could have another child or they could harvest eggs and sperm and place them into a surrogate mother. Many things can be done these days. Culture aside, their daughter has the same DNA. She can still carry on the bloodlines.

  3. Hank Stanco says:

    To ‘play God’ would be to impose one’s deity on others who may or may not participate in the same faith. We can’t play the game of ‘what if’ as there are too many parameters to overcome.

    If the parents are the custodians of the son’s body, why restrict them on grounds of another’s faith?

  4. HSW says:

    The ethical considerations are significant. In this case there is no spouse/partner. Would the decision have been different if there were? Will this set a precedent for parents only in the absence of a partner? And as the article asked, how do they plan to create this child? Must the mother be Chinese? Will her rights be respected? Traditional Chinese culture hasn’t always been concerned with women except as breeders.

    So many questions, so few answers.

  5. Rev. Brien says:

    Mid-west farming family watched their only son who was severely injured in a war fight for weeks before losing his life to his injuries. He had been awarded several purple hearts during his tour, saving many lives. His mother and father were devastated watching their son die. The mother begs doctors for sperm extraction, knowing this will be the only chance they have to continue their sons’ lineage, and have a grandchild. She was granted that request, found a surrogate to carry the child, and now have a beautiful grandson and a whole new set of family friends, the surrogate, who is very much involved with the child, and the family has managed to find peace. Tell me, by taking the word “chinese” out of the story, did it have any affect on your opinion?

    1. Laurie Cleveland says:

      No. But in this case, they had one child. In the case cited, there is a daughter. No parent should have to lose a child and regardless, the process is expensive. So, now you have another ethical dilemma. Money vs. No money or not enough to pay for it. A few years back, this wouldn’t even be an issue. While dogs aren’t the same thing, about 7years ago, give or take, my jerk of a landlord burned down my kennel bldg with all of my German Shepherd dogs in it. These were my family and I had one particular dog who was what I had been breeding for for 32 years. No, I didn’t breed every year and the youngest was 5. Now that they are doing things with DNA, I figured that I would ask the question if I could get DNA from one of what was left of them and was told no. It has to be viable. So 32 years of working on something and doing it the right way and it’s gone in an instant and the bastards got away with it. I understand loss all too well. Family is family. I have a daughter and no sons as she was a high risk pregnancy and my ex didn’t want to take the chance of having another child. The Goodrich lines through my side of the family and the Cleveland Gene’s from his side of the family don’t translate into either side contuing on through the Male end of things, but I have 3 grandsons who continue the lines, even if it’s not the last name. So, I guess that the real question here is not that they are technically able to do something, but why can someone who has the means do it for whatever the reason, and others are denied? I suppose that my brother who is 68 could probably do a sperm collection, but he also has to think of all of the ramifications, least of which is his wife and daughters, neither of whom are likely to have children. For a time, I used both my maiden name and married name hyphenated, because I felt that it was important to me; however, many of my gifts don’t come from the Goodrich (yes Those ones!), but through my mother’s side through the maternal lines. I am just as proud of her contribution as I am of my dad’s, probably moreso, because her people didn’t disown people because they didn’t agree with a potential marriage partner or the child didn’t want to be in the family business. So, again, I would do almost anything to get my von Goodrich’s “T” litter lines back, but there is only one possibility left and I wasn’t able to find them. I would even settle for a couple of generations back, because I could work with that.
      The other thing that nobody else has commented on is what about the potential grandchildren? What are they going to be told and how much would it effect them? What happens if the surrogate changes her mind and wants to keep the baby. Court battles can be long and acrimonious and not in the best interest of anybody, never mind a child. I know that they are trying to replace a lost son. Problem is, no matter how much that they may want this, genetics combine differently. I am willing to settle for something out of my lines. Maybe the farmers are as well as he was an only child. That is not the case for this scenario. My daughter can’t have anymore children as I nearly lost her with the last baby from placenta previa and acretia. While she still has her ovaries and a very small part of her uterus, she is not a candidate for a uterus transplant and I needed a hysterectomy. Besides, I am too darned old for that nonsense. If she found the right man who would be good to her boys, the younger 2 who have autism through their dad, she would have to resort to the same sort of thing and the current love interest is Tunisian and it is either au natural or nothing. Again, cultural differences which always need to be taken into account. None of this would have even been an issue until the sheep experiment.

  6. Valdis says:

    This is sick. This is an extremely unhealthy way to cope with the loss of their son. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. This potential child will have no parents, and will balk at story of its creation. Can you imagine being that child? The hurt and anger alone will cause until damage.

    1. Valdis says:

      I’m just here to fix typos in my original comment. “…will balk at the story…” and “…untold damage.”

    2. Lionheart says:

      I’m not seeing why there should be any hurt or anger in any child that gets to know he was given life by an incredible act of science. There is no reason why the child cannot grow up perfectly healthy in a loving family.

      🦁❤️

      1. Laurie Cleveland says:

        Lionheart, I spent a long time answering another person above. There are ethical reasons why it shouldn’t have happened in this case. If I read the scenario correctly, they have another child, a daughter. Different cultures have different ways of thinking. China is one of many countries where males are prized over females. That’s the first thing. Yes, somebody else cited a similar situation, but the son was an only child and was in the military and was dying. They were able to get a dispensation for the procedure and the birth mum is very much in the picture, which is commendable. In this case, what if the birth mum doesn’t want to give up the child? It happens all the time. It would be a long and ugly court battle with the child stuck in the middle. You mentioned that science would be no problem for the child. How would you know? I worked with adolescents enough to know that even a child who is adopted and had decent adoptive parents always wanted to know why their parents gave them up and why they weren’t “good enough. ” You are speaking from an adult POV. Kids can be ridiculously cruel as I know only too well. Anybody being perceived as different gets picked on unmercifully and if you don’t think that this could happen, then I have news for you. I had to deal with it everywhere and at home courtesy of one of my brothers. Scientists don’t have all of the answers. Not everyone who loses a child and can’t have more can afford this as it’s still very expensive. So, say this had happened to you and you couldn’t afford it, what do you do? Especially if you are older and dealing with young children isn’t your idea of a good time anymore, lol. There was a chance that as the son was going into the military as Regular Army as an officer, he could be placed in harm’s way. Young people think that they are invincible and clearly he was no exception, but what happened if he was killed in the line of duty? Would they still have this option? As it stands today, no. I know because I wanted to get DNA from one of my German Shepherds who was killed along with 4 other of my dogs by a landlord who got away with it. 32 years gone and no way to get them back, particularly one of them. I realize that Bullwinkle, Charlie, Mira, Adina and Striper were only dogs, but they were very much my family and I did it right. I was all set to find a girlfriend for Bullwinkle when the unthinkable happened and the bastard got away with it. I understand loss. I understand why someone who has lost a young adult wanted a living reminder of their son, but what I also know that even if I was successful or these parents are successful, it will not bring back the child that was lost.

        1. Lionheart says:

          You can create as many “what if” scenarios as you’d like Laurie, which are no different to any “what if” scenarios in any family, such as a drug family; an alcoholic family; an abusive family; an Islamic family; an incestuous family; an African starving family; a deaf family, etc. Who is to say any child is going to be born into the perfect family? The bottom line is…..a child is born….. and given life.

          🦁❤️

      2. Hank Stanco says:

        Well Lion, we finally agree on something. It must be going to snow in hell…

        1. Lionheart says:

          ❤️. 😇

  7. Carl Elfstrom says:

    It sure beats giving his body to Victor Frankenstein. Playing god or not, I think it’s super cool, either way. And even though it may be selfish, it’s in a good way. My hat’s off to modern science. It really blows my mind to think of all they’ve come up with in not much more than the last century, compared to all the time before it. Think of how this world would be if it wasn’t for men like Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and the Wright Brothers, to name a few of many. And Mary Shelley might have helped, by getting people to start thinking about life beyond death.

    1. Laurie Cleveland says:

      Carl what you are saying is a very slippery slope and as far as I am concerned by raising a calf in an artificial womb is going too far. Everything has positives and negatives. I am sure that the Ethics department hasn’t fully weighed in on this issue.

  8. Christian says:

    If those where his wishes, his parents Honor him by investing in his children he could not live to see.

    As a West Point man, Duty, Honor, Country, and Family are highly valued.

    He probably left some eecords of wanting to service his country, have a family, and be a successful individual.

    Any woman willing to carry his child to term and be the mother or help his parents become adoptive grand parents is performing a Great Christian Service to not only him, but to her country.

    Heaven Bless Her that Creates New Life ! 🙂

    God Bless America & God Bless his whole family.

    May the perpetual Light of the Creator shine upon him.

  9. Christian says:

    p.s. We are All the Children of God,
    so, Who’s Playing ?

    Raisint the Dead, Building new planets, designing new life forms from DNA WetWare – we have the mind the creator gave us.

    No knowledge is forbidden, if that knowledge is helpful in Creating Life or Healing the Sick or raising the dead.

    Jesus preaching at Grave yards because He been there and done that already.

    We are not playing god.
    We are All god’s Children.
    And we are growing up…

    1. Lionheart says:

      Clearly, Christian, we are not all growing up, because there are still people that have been conned into worshipping the worse mass murdering deity ever created by mankind, all somehow pretending he’s a very nice loving kind of god after all.

      Here’s a well known humorous statement by a priest at a gravesite during an interment: “Sisters and brethren, we are all gathered here today, around the gravesite of your loved one, because your thoughts and prayers didn’t do s*** “.

      🦁♥️

      1. Hank Stanco says:

        Lion you were doing so well too…

        1. Lionheart says:

          Sorry Hank, but I hope my second paragraph made you smile 🤗

          🦁❤️

          1. Hank Stanco says:

            As a matter of fact, it did…

  10. Secretary3rd says:

    Cool. The family tree will still go on. What could be better that his sperm will father a grandchild long after he is dead, bury and rotting in his grave. Only in America could this happen. Sure beats cloning.

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