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Rufus McGill II, 19, was injured in a car crash Oct. 14 and is in critical condition.
Rufus McGill and his ex-wife, Jerri McGill, want to collect sperm from their son for possible future procreation.
The Roanoke Times
ROANOKE--The root of the issue is simple. If 19-year-old Rufus McGill II dies, his parents want his memory to live. They want grandchildren.
But that concern is secondary. McGill, after all, remains on life support at Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital, and his parents, Jerri and Rufus McGill, hold hope that their son can pull through. But if he doesn't, and hope fails, they said they want to harvest their son's sperm to start the next generation on their own.
"I just think there's a mission for his dad and I," Jerri McGill said on Tuesday. "This happened for a reason. There's no doubt in my mind that he would want this."
The ramifications of making that kind of medical decision are murky, though. While Jerri and Rufus McGill can make the decision to end life support, they can't legally collect their son's sperm. He's an adult, and they are no longer considered his legal guardians. Rufus McGill II has one full brother, who lives with his father in North Carolina, and two half siblings.
It's an issue that places the McGills at a crossroads, where health and family law intersect with the ethical implications of starting new life without a person's expressed consent. And while postmortem collection of semen isn't unheard of, the question of what happens to the child after gestation does raise red flags, ethicists say.
McGill has been listed in critical condition since Oct. 14, when he crashed his mother's 2005 Cadillac near Boones Mill in Franklin County. The wreck involved six people and killed Hannah M. Long, a 15-year-old Liberty High School student. Rufus McGill II was airlifted to the hospital.
"He took a turn for the worst last Sunday," Jerri McGill said. "They're running some tests right now, but the doctors believe he's brain dead."
"There are some decisions that his father and I are going to have to make."
It's been a two-week nightmare for the McGills, one that has kept them camped out in a hospital waiting area since the crash.
Divorced but still on amicable terms, the pair, both 40, agreed that keeping alive the possibility of grandchildren through their son was a positive thing. They even found a University of Virginia Medical Center urologist willing to perform the procedure, they said.
"The problem is a court order," Jerri McGill said. "We have to have a court order because of his age. We have called attorneys in Roanoke and they won't touch it with a 10-foot pole."
Thomas Hafemeister, a University of Virginia law professor who researches bioethics and the law, said the issue isn't crystal clear, that anything having to do with reproduction produces its own parallel questions.
If Rufus McGill II were a minor, the situation would be less convoluted, Hafemeister said.
"He is brain dead, but he has not yet been declared dead," he said. "The question becomes: Who is the surrogate decision maker? Who can make decisions on behalf of this adult?"
Ensuring that the child enters the world in a stable environment also becomes a concern, he said.
"There may be some groups in society who find this improper, creating a life without a parent," Hafemeister said. "And what are grandparents' rights?"
Laurence McCullough, the associate director of medicine at the Center for Medical Ethics and Health Policy at Baylor College of Medicine, said in an email that the McGills do not have ethical legal standing to make their request.
"If his wishes regarding having children cannot be reliably identified, the matter is concluded and the parents' request should be refused," McCullough said.
If the McGills' plans to extract their son's semen do move forward, experts said the semen would then be analyzed and frozen in liquid nitrogen, essentially freezing the cells in time.
Michelle Ottay, the lab director for the Fairfax Cryobank in Northern Virginia, said she has worked with families looking to extract and freeze sperm before. The procedure is often used by military families when someone is scheduled for deployment, or when a cancer patient prepares for treatment that may affect his reproductive abilities.