Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Japanese Granddads Become Sperm Donors Preserving Bloodline Important to Families

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Japanese Granddads Become Sperm Donors Preserving Bloodline Important to Families

Article excerpt

TOKYO -- Each morning and evening, in old Japanese families, the eldest living son kneels with time-honored faith before the butsudan, a family altar in a special alcove of his house, to pray to ancestors who may stretch back century upon century -- to shoguns, to samurai, perhaps to an emperor.

The son brings a small mound of rice, water, and flowers or fruit, and beseeches his forebears to keep their protective watch over the family and its fortunes. But when a break in that blood link to these ancient protectors is threatened by a couple's failure to conceive, some Japanese have turned to living relatives for help.

To continue the hereditary line, they have used artificial insemination to produce babies whose grandfathers are also their fathers.

A doctor at a maternity hospital in southern Japan has acknowledged inseminating wives with the sperm of the fathers of their infertile husbands in at least nine cases -- five of them successful. Another doctor said he had performed the procedure twice, with one successful pregnancy.

The procedure has split the medical community here. A doctor involved was brought before an ethics violation board last week, but his challenge to what he called "old, conservative" rules resulted in a proposal to make such procedures acceptable.

"It's time for change," said the doctor, Atsushi Tanaka, director of a maternity hospital in Kitakyushu. "Japanese people put strong importance on the bloodstream. We are a homogeneous people. I don't think it's a big problem using a grandfather's sperm."

American experts say the procedure would be legal and ethical in most of the United States, where artificial insemination is largely unregulated. But many said they have never heard of such a case, and some said they are concerned about such a crossing of generations.

"I actually think there's something of a cultural taboo here; it seems somehow wrong to procreate with your husband's father," said Arthur Caplan, director of the Center for Bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania. …

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