Months after West Point cadet Peter Zhu died from injuries sustained in a tragic skiing accident - and lost what his parents said was his dream to have children of his own - a judge has ruled that his parents may use his frozen sperm to create a child.
New York State Supreme Court Justice John Colangelo ruled last week that Zhu's parents, Yongmin and Monica Zhu, may decide what to do with their son's sperm, including whether to use it for "procreative purposes".
The parents filed a court petition in March to retrieve their only son's sperm before he was removed from life support, calling it their "one and only chance of fulfilling Peter's wishes and preserving his incredible legacy" and to carry on the family name.
"At this time, the Court will place no restrictions on the use to which Peter's parents may ultimately put their son's sperm, including its potential for procreative purposes," the judge wrote in his ruling.
"As far as the Court can discern, no such restrictions are mandated by either New York or federal law. That is not to say, however, that Petitioners may not need to surmount certain obstacles, or confront important residual issues should they choose to seek to use Peter's sperm for reproductive purposes."
The parents' lawyer, Joseph Williams, could not immediately be reached for comment.
Zhu, from Concord, California, had expressed a desire to have a family of his own, his parents said.
The 21-year-old senior at the US Military Academy at West Point in New York had discussed his dreams with his parents, telling them he wanted to be a father - to five children - and raise them on a ranch, despite their teasing him that such a brood would be expensive, his parents wrote in their March 1 petition.
For a senior class assignment, Zhu recently wrote that he wanted to get married "before 30," have kids and "become a career officer in the military," according to court records.
"Our son's dying wish was to become a father and to bring children into this world," his parents said.
But Art Caplan, a professor of bioethics and head of the division of medical ethics at New York University's school of medicine, said the case is "an ethical quagmire," explaining that there's no set system for asking people what they want for their genetic material after their death and no set system for making that determination in court when they haven't legally made their wishes known.
That, Caplan said, leaves many ethical considerations, particularly about what's in the best interest of the child.
Would the deceased parent have wanted the child to be created using a surrogate? Would that parent have wanted the child to be raised by his or her grandparents or someone other than the actual parent? When and how would that parent have wanted the child to be told the circumstances?
Regarding the Zhu case, Caplan said he disagrees with the judge's decision because he does not believe parents should have control over their children's reproduction. "It doesn't exist in nature," he said. He added that he thinks such allowances should be made only for partners or spouses.
In February, Zhu was gravely injured in a skiing accident on the West Point ski slope, fracturing his spinal cord, according to court documents.
Days later, on February 27, the 21-year-old was declared brain dead.