JERUSALEM — More than four years after her 20-year-old son was killed in action in the Gaza Strip, Rachel Cohen is hoping for a grandchild after winning a court case to have a woman inseminated with the dead soldier's sperm.
"We've created a victory over nature," Rosenblum headed New Family said
By Joel Greenberg
Tribune foreign correspondent
The case, decided this month by a court near Tel Aviv, is the first in the world in which a court permitted a woman to be inseminated from a known, dead sperm donor who was not her partner, according to the lawyer who argued the case, Irit Rosenblum.
The parents of the Israeli soldier, Staff Sgt. Keivan Cohen, had his sperm extracted and frozen after his death and fought a lengthy legal battle for the right to use it to inseminate a woman he never met.
The Cohens argued that although their son did not leave a written will, he had on many occasions expressed a wish to become a father. The first steps in the insemination procedure began last week.
"On the one hand I'm terribly sad that I don't have my boy; it's a terrible loss," Rachel Cohen, 43, said in a telephone interview from her home in the town of Petah Tikva. "But I'm also happy that I succeeded in carrying out my son's will."
Rosenblum, who heads New Family, an Israeli family rights group , said the ruling meant that family lines could continue years after death through a person unknown to the deceased.
"We've created a victory over nature," Rosenblum said. "This is an unprecedented human drama."
Rachel Cohen, who immigrated to Israel from Iran 20 years ago and has three other children and a grandchild, said the idea of preserving her son's sperm came to her hours after he was shot by a Palestinian sniper on Aug. 20, 2002, at a lookout post near Khan Yunis.
"He would always talk about how he wanted to get married and have children," Cohen said. "He loved children and was especially connected to little ones. He even wanted to marry during his army service, but we didn't agree.
"After he was killed, I picked up a picture of him that I had in the bedroom, broke the frame and started talking to him," Cohen said. "I told him: `You've been killed, all your dreams are gone, nothing is left of you.' Through his eyes he told me that it wasn't too late, and that there was still something to take from him.
"I didn't understand. I said, `You're about to be buried; what is left for me to take?' Then I realized it was his sperm," Cohen said. "I used to be a nurse and I knew from the newspapers that sperm can be frozen. I rushed to the local army office and asked that his sperm be removed and frozen. It was done the same day."
A year went by, and the bereaved mother saw her son in a dream. "He said, `What about my children? Why aren't you doing anything about it?'" Cohen said. "I woke up shaking and told my husband that we have to do something."
Cohen contacted a newspaper and told her story, saying she was seeking a woman willing to be inseminated with her son's sperm and to "take the responsibility of being a mother."
Cohen said she received about 200 responses, which she narrowed down to 40 candidates. But the hospital where her son's sperm was kept refused to release it, saying the law did not permit it to be given to the parents of the deceased. A 2003 directive by the attorney general says that frozen sperm may be used after death only by the partner of the deceased.
"I took it very hard, but I refused to give up," Cohen said. After taking her case to the Defense Ministry and the attorney general's office, Cohen contacted Rosenblum, the lawyer, after hearing her in a radio interview. Rosenblum talked about a new document drawn up by her organization, a "biological will," in which men can declare their wish to have their sperm frozen and designate how it should be used after their death.
According to Rosenblum, more than 100 Israeli soldiers filled out such a will before going into combat during the war against Hezbollah last summer in Lebanon.
Similarly, some American soldiers have frozen their sperm before shipping out for duty in Iraq.
New Family filed a suit with the Tel Aviv District Family Court on behalf of the Cohens in 2005, arguing that they were seeking to carry out their son's will, expressed in his repeated statements that he wished to marry and have children.
Sgt. Cohen, who served in an elite combat unit in Gaza, often said he was afraid of dying there before fathering offspring, according to the brief filed with the court.
On Jan. 15 the court ruled in favor of the Cohens, noting that the verdict applied solely to their case and should not be considered a precedent. Rachel Cohen said she received the news as she stood weeping by her son's grave, promising him that she had done everything to carry out his wishes.
Preparations are under way to inseminate the woman chosen by the Cohens, a 35-year-old unmarried economist who has declined to be publicly identified.
"She's like family to us," Rachel Cohen said. "Cruel and good fate brought us together."