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