Who owns your sperm after you die?

Can sperm be considered personal property? What happens when someone dies and the rights to his frozen sperm is contested? Harvard Law Prof. Glenn Cohen explains how this surprising questions is actually battled out in the courts and the legal issues at play. Prof. Cohen shares real life examples and explores the law around protecting and perfecting rights to this most personal of assets.


 Glenn Cohen is a professor of law at Harvard Law School. He is one of the world's leading experts on the intersection of bioethics and the law, as well as health law.

Additional Resources

The Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology, and Bioethics at Harvard Law School was founded in 2005 through a generous gift from Joseph H. Flom and the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation.  The Center’s founding mission was to promote interdisciplinary analysis and legal scholarship in these fields. 

Abandoned DNA & the Ownership of Sperm: a 30-minute TalksOnLaw conversation exploring DNA-related law questions with Professor Glenn Cohen, click here.  

Who owns your sperm after you die? Brief Transcript

I’m Glen Cohen. Welcome to TalksOnLaw. I’m a professor at Harvard Law School and my specialty is the law and ethics relating to medicine. Now we’re going to talk about frozen sperm and what happens to sperm after you die. So you might freeze sperm because you’re getting a medical treatment or because you’re reaching the end of your fertility period as a man, you’re undergoing a cancer treatment, for example, and you’re worried about losing your fertility, your sperm won’t be good anymore. But let’s say you unfortunately pass away. Can someone use your frozen sperm? Does the law allow someone to do this? Well actually, the practices vary from hospital to hospital and state by state. Typically, before a hospital will allow a sperm retrieval, they’re going to require some express or maybe very implicit form of consent – some indication from you that you wanted your partner to be able to use your sperm after you’re dead. There have also been cases about trusts. So imagine you've died, but you have some banked sperm, and someone wants to use it to produce new heirs. Can they do that? Well this has not been encountered by many courts, but the courts that have done so have been very skeptical about the idea. So again, they typically look back to the person who created the trust, their intent, and if that intent did not seem to include posthumously conceived children, they will not allow the inheritance by the posthumously conceived child. I'm Glenn Cohen. I hope you've enjoyed TalksOnLaw.