Whose Eggs Are They, Anyway?

Earlier this month Rabbi Joshua Hammerman published an article titled, “Postmortem Egg-Freezing and Halacha” on the Jewish Week website.
The article refers to a recent case in which a 17-year-old girl was killed in an accident, after which an Israeli court allowed her parents to harvest and freeze her eggs. This case is an excellent example of the kinds of questions that can arise when the use of new technology presents us with new moral dilemmas.
Although it has become accepted practice for women to freeze their eggs for possible use in the future, this is the first case of which I am aware in which eggs were harvested after a woman’s unexpected death, and, presumably, without her consent. It seems highly unlikely that this young car accident victim, who had no reason to suspect her life would be cut short, had a discussion with her parents about what she wanted done with her eggs if she were to die prematurely.
I believe Rabbi Hammerman goes too far when he asks, “…wouldn’t forcibly fertilizing her eggs be a form of post mortem statutory rape?” There needs to be a sex act of some kind for a rape to occur, and there is no sex act being performed here.
However, in Jewish tradition we consider the treatment of one’s body after death to be a matter of import. A person’s body is not to be mutilated, or treated with disrespect. It is not even supposed to be left alone until after burial.
Saving a life is also an important value in Jewish tradition, so many Jewish communities allow the harvesting of organs after death to save the lives of others. However, this practice is not universally accepted in all Jewish communities. So what are we to make of the idea of harvesting eggs to fertilize later, which, arguably, would be creating new life, but not saving an existing one?
And what if the girl’s father wants to use his sperm to fertilize the eggs? I don’t think this would be incest since, again, there would be no sex act involved, but should this be taboo? Would a resulting baby be his child or his grandchild, or both?
How does this case differ from widows wanting to have sperm harvested from soldiers who have died in battle? Those men, like the young woman, are not able to choose whether or not they want to become a parent after death. Do dead people have rights, or are their bodies owned by their next of kin, to do with as they will?
I also wonder whether this practice is healthy for the family. It strikes me as an attempt to cheat death, rather than to accept what has happened. I am also concerned about what kind of expectations would be placed on a new baby born from the harvested eggs or sperm. Despite their best efforts, how could the family not wish this new child to somehow be like, or to replace, the person who was lost?
Unfortunately, halacha (jewish law) evolves much more slowly than technology, and we have no set answers to these questions, nor can we expect to reach a consensus soon. As a citizen in this strange new world in which we all want to do the right thing, what do you think is the right and ethical choice in this case?
(Photo: Moyix)