How do you honor Spectrum News 13 reporter Dylan Lyons, who was killed in a senseless shooting while on assignment last month in the Orlando area?
In the heat of the moment and the grief from his family, his mother and fiancée had the thought and hope for a new chance at life. They found a way to keep his legacy alive by harvesting his semen.
Lyon’s mother said her previous experiences triggered this idea.
It’s something many people have questions about, but fertility experts say Dyan Lyons was able to donate semen after his death.
The first baby born from in vitro fertilization was delivered in 1978. Since then, the process has been fine-tuned, making it possible to extract sperm from a deceased person and use it to create a viable embryo.
“We’ve been called upon to posthumously after death to retrieve sperm. And even, for that matter, eggs,” said Dr. Craig Sweet.
Sweet is a Fort Myers fertility specialist.
“Most clinicians will want to get the sperm within 24 to 36 hours of death. And again, I believe that there have been reported cases [of] waiting a bit longer. But the sooner is the better,” he said.
Once the sperm is harvested, it can be frozen and used years to decades later, resulting in successful pregnancies and births.
There are a few options for retrieving sperm.
“We’ve ended up just taking a single testicle and then processing the testicle in the lab. So, it allows us to open up the various tissues and get as much sperm as possible. Otherwise, you can just do biopsies or aspirations,” Sweet said.
Under the best circumstances, in vitro fertilization is not a hundred percent. And those odds go down even farther if sperm is aspirated posthumously.
“When we’re surgically aspirating sperm, we’re actually sort of taking them off the assembly line a little early, you know, function, well, they don’t move as well, but they’ve got their DNA, and they can still create children. But in general, the implantation rates for embryos created through surgically aspirated sperm is lower than the implantation rates from ejaculated sperm,” Sweet said.
It’s a tricky procedure requiring the sperm to be injected into the eff in the hope of creating an embryo.
From that point, in vitro fertilization follows the standard process.
Science is one aspect, but there are ethical and legal considerations, as well.
Posthumous sperm retrieval is still relatively uncommon, according to a local doctor.
Casey Fite, Lyons’ fiancée, wrote online that she called doctor after doctor until she found one who would do it.
While it is legal, there are many ethical factors at stake.
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine updated its guidelines on this in 2018. They state the procedure is “ethically justifiable” under certain conditions: There must be written documentation from the deceased. If that documentation is unavailable, doctors should consider requests from “the surviving spouse or partner.”
The bottom line is there’s no specific legislation on this procedure, forcing hospitals and clinics to make the final call.
Sweet has done this procedure in the past but he is very careful about what cases he takes on.
“The other thing that I think that is important, from my perspective, is that there’s clear intent to procreate. There’s clear intent by the individuals to have a family. So for example, one of the cases that I had, the patient had a history of infertility and had an appointment to come and see me before he died, and so there was fairly clear intent there, I felt much more comfortable with that case,” Sweet said.
It’s important not to forget how special this moment is for Fite.
She showed it can be done and done for good reason.
She wrote on her GoFundMe page, “Dylan would have been the best dad in the world. I am devastated that he can’t be here for what we always wanted, but I want to keep his legacy alive by having our baby.”