Palestinian boy born from sperm smuggled out of Israeli prison

Michael Cook
14 Sep 2012
Reproduced with Permission

The wife of a Palestinian prisoner held in an Israeli jail has given birth to his son, even though she has not seen him for 15 years. Ammar Ziban, 37, smuggled his sperm to an IVF clinic in the West Bank where his wife Dalal was artificially inseminated.

The Hamas member, now 37, was arrested in 1998 and sentenced to 27 life terms plus 25 years. The couple have not seen each other for 15 years, let alone had conjugal visits. "For us it is a humanitarian issue - everyone has the right to be a parent. Prison must not stand in the way of this right," IVF specialist Salem Abu Khaizaran AFP. How the sperm was smuggled out of the prison is unknown.

A Palestian official agreed and pointed out that Israeli prisoners were allowed to father children, including Yigal Amir, the right-wing extremist who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995. He was allowed to artificially inseminate his wife, who gave birth to a son in 2007. "Even Rabin's murderer had a baby while he was in prison, so why should Palestinians be deprived of that right?" asked the official.

Ammar Ziban's sperm was sorted to ensure that the child would be a boy. The couple already had two girls and they wanted a male to carry on the family line.

In an analysis of this thorny bioethical and political issue, Mary Yarwood, of BioNews, highlights some of the legal issues for English prisoners. In 2001 the House of Lords upheld the government's argument that murderer Gavin Mellor should not be allowed to father or bear children for three reasons: (a) it is an explicit consequence of imprisonment that prisoners should not have the opportunity to found a family; (b) there would likely be serious and justified public concern if prisoners continued to have the opportunity to conceive children while in prison; and (c) it is undesirable, as a general rule, for children to be brought up in single parent families. However, the European Court of Human Rights disagreed in the subsequent case of another murderer, Kirk Dickson, and declared that denial of reproductive rights is not a necessary consequence of imprisonment.

Yarwood agreed with the ECHR. However, in her opinion, there was definitely something bioethically amiss in the case of the Palestinian prisoner: the sperm sorting. "Whilst the Zibdens may argue that they needed a son to 'balance' their family, the desire to 'carry on the family line' also indicates that male children are valued more highly than girls. In this respect, the use of sperm sorting is more troubling than the initial act of sperm smuggling out of the prison." - AFP, Aug 13 (NB - the spelling of the names of the Palestinian couple varies wildly in the media reports.)