West Point cadet Peter Zhu died at age 21 in February in a tragic skiing accident. His parents now can attempt to continue his legacy and their family lineage after a New York judge said they can use his frozen sperm to produce a child.
New York Supreme Court Judge John Colangelo issued his ruling last week, two months after he granted Yongmin and Monica Zhu’s request to save the sperm.
“Peter’s parents are the proper parties to make decisions regarding the disposition of Peter’s genetic material,” Colangelo wrote. “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 use for procreative purposes.”
Another skier found Zhu unresponsive on a ski slope on the grounds of US Military Academy West Point in upstate New York on February 23, according to a school news release. He was airlifted to Westchester Medical Center, where doctors determined that Zhu’s spinal cord was fractured, and he was declared medically brain dead three days later, court documents say.
Zhu’s parents had petitioned a court in March in order to allow the hospital to proceed with a sperm retrieval procedure. Peter’s sperm has been stored in a local sperm bank for the past couple of months while Colangelo made his decision on what could be done with it. He noted that given the shock of their son’s death, they had no taken concrete steps to attempt conception with a surrogate mother.
Neither of Zhu’s parents could be reached Tuesday. Their attorney, Joseph R. Williams, did not return CNN’s request for comment.
The Zhus spoke via teleconference at a court hearing in late March and spoke to their reasons for wanting “to preserve the possibility of the use of Peter’s sperm in the future in order to posthumously realize his dream of having children and continuing the family line,” according to court documents.
Peter did not have a living will, but Colangelo wrote that his decision was made, in part, by Peter’s “presumed intent” based on his prior actions and statements, including Peter’s decision to embark on a career in military service, his evident devotion to family, and a list of goals Peter had previously written, which included, “[have] three kids.”
The Ethics Committee for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine released guidance on posthumous retrieval for reproduction in 2018.
In situations in which the deceased doesn’t have a surviving spouse, the committee calls it “troubling” and says that a surviving parent doesn’t have an ethical claim to their child’s reproductive materials because they would not have been involved in a reproductive effort with their child, as a spouse or partner traditionally would.
While Colangelo wrote that he saw no restrictions for use of the genetic material, he noted the Zhus may have to face “certain obstacles,” including the possible reluctance of medical professionals to assist such a procedure.
CNN’s Lauren del Valle and Toby Lyles contributed to this report.