Past, or coming, or to come. Rights, interests and posthumous parenthood

In the first of our seminar series for 2021, Professor Colin Gavaghan discussed two contentious matters that have recently arisen in New Zealand, concerning assisted reproductive technology and the use of gametes.


In 2017, the New Zealand High Court authorised the retrieval of sperm from a dead man. This followed a request from his partner, but was done in the absence of express consent from the deceased himself. The sperm is currently being stored, but at present, New Zealand law does not allow it to be used. Meanwhile, new guidelines on posthumous reproduction are expected to be published by the Advisory Committee (ACART) in the near future.

The prospect of posthumous reproduction raises a number of legal and ethical issues, ranging from bodily integrity to inheritance rights. In this talk, though, I will focus on the rights, interests and status of two classes of beings that are closely affected by these sorts of decisions: those who are deceased, and those potential future children whose very existence is contingent on the content of such decisions.

In addition to being a long-standing focus of philosophical attention, the question of whether rights or interests can meaningfully be attributed to the deceased has become a matter of renewed focus in New Zealand, where the matter of posthumous reputational damage has been considered in our Supreme Court from the perspective of Māori tikanga (customary law).

Do the dead retain interests or rights? Can future children be harmed by the very fact of being born? And how should the law respond when confronted with what philosopher David Heyd has called “intractable normative problems”?


The presentation can be viewed online at The QUTUBE, the official YouTube channel for Queensland University of Technology (QUT).

Guest presenter

Colin GavaghanColin Gavaghan is a Professor at the Faculty of Law, Otago University, where he is also Director of the Centre for Law & Emerging Technologies. He was until recently Deputy Chair of ACART, currently chairs the NZ Police Expert panel on Emergent Technologies, and is a member of the Digital Council for Aotearoa, which advises the Government on digital technologies and their implications. He is the author of Deregulating the Genetic Supermarket: The Law and Ethics of Selecting the Next Generation (Routledge 2007) and co-author of A Citizen’s Guide to Artificial Intelligence (MIT Press, 2021).

About the series

The QUT Global Law, Science and Technology Seminar Series aims to bring together national and international speakers who will explore the personal, societal and governance dimensions of solving real world problems which are influenced by, and through the interactions of science, technology and the law.

The series will host speakers who think about ‘technology’ and ‘science’ as broadly construed to refer to methods of framing or interacting with the world, and that enable the critical and imaginative questioning of the technical, science, environmental and health dimensions of law and life.

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