Bioethics Blogs

Should Teen Boys with Cancer Freeze their Sperm?

Angel Petropanagos considers the barriers to decision-making about fertility preservation for adolescent males with cancer

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This summer, a 20 year old man, who was 14 years old at the time of his cancer diagnosis, filed a complaint against his pediatric oncologist, after being diagnosed with infertility. Mr. A. now claims that hospital staff failed to provide him with adequate information about the risk of infertility caused by his cancer treatments. He maintains that although his pediatric oncologist mentioned the risk of infertility, his fertility preservation options were not emphasized. In addition, he is upset that he was not given written information about sperm freezing, nor given the option of providing a sperm sample prior to the onset of his chemotherapy.

His oncologist contends that the teen was “very clear in private conversation with him at the time that he would not have wanted to produce a sperm sample.” But, Mr. A. maintains that as a teenager he was too embarrassed to discuss sperm freezing (and the masturbation required to obtain a sperm sample) with a stranger. Mr. A. is also upset that his parents were not involved in the conversation about sperm banking. In the end, the oncologist was required to send a written apology to Mr. A.

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Mr. A.’s case is not uncommon. Fertility is an important quality of life issue for many cancer patients and survivors, yet few male cancer patients freeze their sperm before treatment. Frequently, cancer survivors regret not freezing sperm or at least not having the opportunity to make an informed decision about sperm banking because it was not offered to them or, as in the case of Mr.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.