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This policy document is part of a response submitted by the Progress Educational Trust (PET) to the Nuffield Council on Bioethics' Consultation on Human Bodies in Medicine and Research.

What part should family members play in deciding whether bodily material may be used after death where the deceased person's wishes are unknown? Should family members have any right of veto?

Where a deceased person's wishes are not known, their family - in consultation with medical staff - have a role to play in deciding whether their bodily material may be used. However, this latitude should not extend to procuring gametes for use in conceiving a child.

The example of Diane Blood (in the UK's 1997 case R v Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority, ex parte Blood) amounted to a dispute over whether consent had been obtained from the deceased for his sperm to be used in fertility treatment to be given to his widow. Since the court decided that consent had indeed been obtained, it was correct to conclude that his widow had license to use his sperm.

The example of Keivan Cohen (in Israel's 2007 case New Family Organisation v Committee for Approving Surrogacy Agreements) is more troubling, as it amounted to a dispute not only over whether the deceased wished to have children (it seems reasonable to conclude that he did), but also whether this gave his family license to use the sperm to impregnate a woman he had never met. The fact that the court ruled in the Cohen family's favour is regrettable, as the deceased had clearly not consented to his sperm being used by this woman in this way.