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Time of the essence in extracting sperm after SA man's death


In less than 12 hours, barrister Holly Veale managed to help the grieving partner and mother of a young South Australian man killed in a car crash win legal approval to remove his sperm.

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Veale was at home after a yoga session when she was contacted by a member of the Law Society of SA earlier this year, asking if she could help two women with a rare type of legal support.

In the midst of the sudden trauma of losing a loved one, the two wanted legal help in getting permission through the Supreme Court of South Australia to extract and store their loved one’s spermatozoa (the scientific word for sperm).

“Making the application, I am aware it was traumatic and at a difficult moment in having lost somebody but the practical reality of these sorts of cases is that you have only about four days after death to extract but the best-case scenario is for this to happen within 24 hours,” Veale said.

“I was dealing with the most-raw of grief and their strength, in particular the mother’s strength to support her son’s partner and make the application was really spectacular.”

Veale, who is a barrister at Jeffcott Chambers in Adelaide, took on the application work pro bono with support from Lindbloms Lawyers who had experience in the process. A complex process that involved making an application to the court, navigating different acts, ensuring a hearing was rapidly convened with a judge presiding, and having a representative for the Attorney-General present.

“I was contacted about 11am, I was at home in my gym shorts, I had just been doing yoga and I got this sudden urgent call, then by 4.30pm that afternoon we had the order and the sperm was extracted,” Veale said.

“Part of the reason why it happened was the Coroner’s Court was nothing short of brilliant, the Coroner himself personally attended the hearing in the Supreme Court and he called forensic services immediately and had the process commence.”

The successful application meant the spermatozoa could be extracted and it now is being held frozen in a health facility.

At the end of the proceedings, Veale said she was spent. But she quickly became determined to raise awareness in the law community about the procedure and to find potential ways to lobby for the process to be more streamlined in the future.

Veale will host a session at the Law Society of South Australia’s Adelaide headquarters next month called “Time is of the Essence … applications for the retrieval of sperm following an unexpected death” in bid to arm more legal professions with information about obtaining an order rapidly.

While the young man’s partner involved in Veale’s case, who does not want to be identified, has made no decision about what she would like to do with the sperm, Veale has committed to representing her and her partner’s mother in the future.

That is when she says the legal arguments about use of the sperm will be raised in the court, with few previous precedents in the state.

“I received a beautiful card of thanks and a flyer from the funeral and the fact that they even had the energy to even think of that is a testament to what spectacular people they are,” Veale said.

“I don’t know what they will do with it now but I’ve already agreed to act for them in any way they want.”

Veale refers to a separate, earlier case where the wife of a South Australian man who died was granted possession of his sperm and was allowed to have it moved to a Canberra health facility.

There, the legislation guiding the use of spermatozoa extracted from a deceased person is not as stringent, and Veale said the woman was able to use it for IVF.

“(However) in this case (the partner and mother) are still recovering and I have to say I feel very privileged, very, very privileged to have been involved,” Veale said.

“Part of the reason why I want to do something about the education side is because what I found is that the court system doesn’t make this application easy, we had a number of roadblocks along the way in terms of trying to get the application itself lodged.

“If a family wants to make such an application it has got to be completed supremely quickly.”

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