By Joona Räsänen
Ellie Anderson died at the age of 16. Ellie’s unexpected death left her mother, Louise, grappling not only with the grief of losing her child but with a complex problem. Ellie wanted to have children – there is nothing unusual in such a desire. However, Ellie’s case is challenging in many ways.
In our article The Complex Case of Ellie Anderson we consider what ethical issues are present in this case and provide ways how these difficult questions could be approached.
Ellie, who was designated male at birth, but identified as a girl from the age of three, wanted to retain the chance of becoming a parent after her gender reassignment surgery. Therefore, she had had her sperm frozen. Ellie made her mother promise her that she would use Ellie’s sperm to bring her children into existence via a surrogate if something should happen to Ellie. However, according to the current laws, her mother does not have legal access to Ellie’s sperm so it is likely that Ellie’s greatest wish will never become fulfilled.
One obvious issue in this case is that Ellie is dead. This raises the question of whether posthumous harm is possible. Do we harm or wrong Ellie if we do not fulfil her wish to have children?
Many people have two competing intuitions here – at least I do. On one hand, dead people are not conscious so it seems they cannot experience any harm. But on the other hand, there are cases where it feels that we can wrong the dead. For example, legendary jazz musician Charlie “Bird” Parker wanted to be buried in Long Island, New York, next to his daughter – instead and against his wish, he was buried in Lincoln Cemetery, Missouri – where Parker, when alive, faced deep, systemic racism and discrimination because of his skin colour. It seems that burying Parker in a place where he was discriminated against was wrong and that his life did not end as well as it could have ended.
It is not possible to bring Ellie Anderson back, but it might be possible to bring her children into existence and respect Ellie’s wish. If we do that, doesn’t it mean that Ellie’s life went better than it did if her wish is left to be unfilled? However, if Ellie’s sperm will be destroyed, isn’t that discrimination against not only Ellie but also the trans community and trans people’s reproductive rights in general?
Paper title: The Complex case of Ellie Anderson
Authors: Joona Räsänen & Anna Smajdor
Affiliations: Department of Philosophy, Classics, History of Art and Ideas
University of Oslo, Norway
Competing interests: No competing interests