IVF Drama: Young German Widow Fights For Right To Have Dead Husband’s Baby

Last month, Rike R. lost her beloved young husband to cancer. She received a second blow four days later when, to her great disappointment, she was denied access to her husband’s frozen sperm.

Eva Eusterhus

HAMBURG - Rike R."s face radiates joy as she remembers her husband – her soulmate. Despite the tough-guy impression his multiple tattoos and piercings may have given off, he was in fact a very shy man, she recalls.

The 29-year-old woman talks about their five years together, and the fact that life gave her such a great love – something she had thought would never be hers. Her mood changes quickly, though, as she is reminded of their shattered dream of having a child together. Going over in her head the details of her husband's recent passing, of how she held him in her arms, she begins to sob with her whole body, the tears flowing down her cheeks.

But mixed in with the grief of losing her loved one is another kind of pain: the knowledge that she may well never have the child they wanted. German law won't allow it. And the reason is linked to Holger R."s medical history.

Together, the couple battled the tumor growing in Holger R."s head for three years. When he was first diagnosed with cancer, in April 2009, doctors were relatively optimistic. However when the tumor started to grow again a year after an operation removed part of it, doctors ordered chemotherapy which Holger R. began in early 2011.

"We'd planned to have a child, and so we decided that, before chemo began, Holger would have some sperm frozen," says the young widow. They also married, and she began hormone therapy. Things took an unexpected turn in February of this year, however, when Holger's condition suddenly worsened dramatically. He was running a very high temperature, and could no longer eat. Just a few days later, on Feb. 11, he died.

Shortly afterwards, Rike R. suffered a second shock when the clinic for reproductive medicine told her -- one week before she was due to be artificially inseminated -- that the hormone therapy would be stopped and that her husband's sperm could neither be used nor handed out to her. Technically they should also destroy the sperm, doctors said, but in view of Rike R."s present emotional fragility they would not proceed with that right away.

Following the letter of the law

The clinic's strict adherence to the rules is fueled by fears of legal repercussions should it in any way be construed as aiding and abetting a pregnancy that under German law can no longer take place. It is strictly forbidden in Germany to use the sperm or eggs of a dead person for artificial insemination. "My only hope was that I could still have our baby," says Rike R. And she doesn't understand why "what we so wished for together, the thing Holger deeply wanted to happen when he died and which is my only consolation now that he's gone" can't happen.

The clinic's position may seem heartless, but it is in accordance with German laws governing the protection of embryos. Violations are punishable, so clinics commit to using neither the sperm nor eggs of a deceased person for artificial insemination. Nor will they even release them, for fear that a person could take the sperm or eggs abroad to a country where insemination under those conditions would be legal.

Rike R. is particularly upset because she has since found out that the whole thing would not be an issue if she and her husband had taken the time to draft and notarize a signed agreement that the insemination should in fact proceed after his death. "If we'd known about it, of course we would have done it. But there are so many witnesses to the fact that he really wanted this," she says.

Rike R. says giving up is out of the question. She plans to fight, and refuses to acknowledge the strong possibility that she may not win. The feisty pool attendant and lifeguard says that if she has to, she will take the issue all the way to the supreme court.

The widow can count on a lot of support – Holger R. was a huge fan of the Hamburg SV soccer team and received a lot of help and support from fellow fans. Previously the team's supporters collected money to help pay for Rike R."s hormone therapy. Some of the top players also autographed a shirt for Holger R. that he hoped to wear for a meeting with them. Instead he was buried in the shirt.

Rike R."s wish to be able to show her husband the ultrasound pictures of their baby didn't come true. But she does have the photographs Holger R. took of their five happy years together. One of the pictures shows the words her husband had tattooed on his stomach: "Leben ist endlich. Lebe endlich!" Loosely translated, the words mean: "Life's short. Live for the moment!" Fighting on the side of life is exactly what his widow fully intends to do.

Read the original story in German

Photo - inottawa

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

Debt Trap: Why South Korean Economics Explains Squid Game

Crunching the numbers of South Korea's personal and household debt offers a glimpse into what drives the win-or-die plot of the Netflix hit produced in the Asian country.

In the Netflix series, losers of the game face death

Yip Wing Sum


SEOUL — The South Korean series Squid Game has become the most viewed series on Netflix, watched by over 111 million viewers and counting. It has also generated a wave of debate online and off about its provocative message about contemporary life.

The plot follows the story of a desperate man in debt, who receives a mysterious invitation to play a game in which the contestants gamble their lives on six childhood games, with the winner awarded a prize of 45.6 billion won ($38 million)... while the losers face death.

It's a plot that many have noted is not quite as surreal as it sounds, a reflection of the reality of Korean society today mired in personal debt.

Seoul housing prices top London and New York

In the polished streets of downtown Seoul, one sees endless cards and coupons advertising loans scattered on the ground. Since the outbreak of the pandemic, as the demand for loans in South Korea has exploded, lax lending policies have led to a rapid increase in personal debt.

According to the South Korean Central Bank's "Monetary Credit Policy Report," household debt reached 105% of GDP in the first quarter of this year, equivalent to approximately $1.5 trillion at the end of March, with a major share tied up in home mortgages.

Average home loans are equivalent to 270% of annual income.

One reason behind the debts is the soaring housing prices. In Seoul, home to nearly half of the country's population, housing prices are now among the highest in the world. The price to income ratio (PIR), which weighs the average price of a home to the average annual household income, is 12.04 in Seoul, compared to 8.4 in San Francisco, 8.2 in London and 5.4 in New York.

According to the Korea Real Estate Commission, 42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s. For those in their 30s, the average amount borrowed is equivalent to 270% of their annual income.

Playing the stock market

At the same time, the South Korean stock market is booming. The increased demand to buy stocks has led to an increase in other loans such as credit. The ratio for Korean shareholders conducting credit financing, i.e. borrowing from securities companies to secure stock holdings, had reached 21.4 trillion won ($17.7 billion), further increasing the indebtedness of households.

A 30-year-old Seoul office worker who bought stocks through various forms of borrowing was interviewed by Reuters this year, and said he was "very foolish not to take advantage of the rebound."

In addition to his 100 million won ($84,000) overdraft account, he also took out a 100 million won loan against his house in Seoul, and a 50 million won stock pledge. All of these demands on the stock market have further exacerbated the problem of household debt.

42.1% of all home purchases in January 2021 were by young Koreans in their 20s and 30s

Simon Shin/SOPA Images/ZUMA

Game of survival

In response to the accumulating financial risks, the Bank of Korea has restricted the release of loans and has announced its first interest rate hike in three years at the end of August.

But experts believe that even if banks cut loans or raise interest rates, those who need money will look for other ways to borrow, often turning to more costly institutions and mechanisms.

This all risks leading to what one can call a "debt trap," one loan piling on top of another. That brings us back to the plot of Squid Game, "Either you live or I do." South Korean society has turned into a game of survival.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!