Bioethics Blogs

In for Life: Procreative Liberty for Incarcerated Persons Serving Prison Sentences

The release of Cuban spy Gerardo Hernandez as part of a
prisoner swap made headlines last month not only for the diplomatic
implications for Cuba-US relations, but also for the questions surrounding
assisted reproductive services for incarcerated persons. According to a brief
report from
Hernandez’s spouse wanted to have a child with her incarcerated husband and
sought support from a sympathetic US senator to facilitate this expression of
reproductive liberty. While this case includes an added layer of intrigue
because of the impressive barriers that were overcome to secure the means and
support for artificial insemination, the question of how we ought to consider
the use of assisted reproductive technology for couples who wish to bear
children despite one parent serving a life sentence.

While some children may be conceived where prisoners are
permitted conjugal visits, Mr. Hernandez was in a federal prison where it is
reported that such visits are not allowed. The only means for reproduction
would be via assisted technology such as artificial insemination, a now basic
intervention. What about other families who wish to raise children but without
the connections or possibility for release? Is it ethical to support such
endeavors when one parent will be able to contribute gametes and an occasional
visit in a prison setting without freedom to participate in rearing the child?
This is not such an easily answered question.

A superficial look at the law suggests that parental rights
are not presumed to terminate when a parent is incarcerated, but that over time
such rights may terminated to allow for adoption of a minor who no longer has
any parent available to provide guardianship.

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.