Race against clock to salvage new life from death
The grieving fiancee of a Queensland engineer who tragically plummeted to his death while bushwalking in the Scenic Rim last month has been given the right to harvest his sperm and have his baby.
Coroner Donald MacKenzie agreed to allow the removal 32-year-old James Neill Sheldon's testes and spermatozoa on July 13, two days after he fell 200m down Mt Barney and died while bushwalking with friends.
The coroner's approval for the operation on Sheldon's body minutes after it was winched out by helicopter came at the 11th hour and on the steps of the courthouse.
Sheldon's fiancee Kate Louise Houghton, 35, was due in Brisbane Supreme Court for a specially convened early-morning hearing seeking permission for the surgery.
Jennifer Sheean, a barrister for Ms Houghton, a pharmacist from St Lucia, told the court in documents that Ms Houghton was forced to go to court because Ms Mackenzie refused to allow Sheldon's testes to be removed without a court order, when he was approached by the Sheldon family to approve of the surgery on July 12, a day after Sheldon's death as his body lay on the side of the mountain.
Ms Sheean said in her submissions to the court that time was a critical factor because obstetrician Andy Stomatiou had told her that Sheldon's sperm may remain viable for 48 hours after his death.
Sheldon died around midday on July 11, but his body was not removed from the mountain until July 13, the same day Ms MacKenzie greenlit the surgery.
Poor weather hampered the rescue helicopter's retrieval of his body from the mountain, the court heard.
Ms Houghton told the court that she first met her fiancee as a child and they started dating 11 years ago.
They began living together in 2013 and became engaged on Christmas Day 2018.
"We hadn't set a wedding date before James died but we had planned on having children, regardless of whether we had married or not," Ms Houghton told the court.
"Our plan was to have two children before I turned 40.
"I want to make sure that, if it is possible, I still have an opportunity to have James's child.
"I believe that, if he could, James would agree with the removal of his tissue so that I can have an opportunity to have his child if I decide to do so."
Sheldon's sister Helen Breslin, a nurse from Taringa, also filed an affidavit in court stating that the doctor who was to do the surgery, Dr Stomatiou, told her that Sheldon's sperm may remain viable for longer than usual due to the cooler weather at Mr Barney on the weekend of his death.
Ms Breslin told the court that she had spoken with her siblings Anna and Peter and her parents Derek and Joan.
"Our family are very close and we are aware of the plans that Kate and James had to have children in the near future," she said.
"We all agree that it is important for Kate to have the opportunity to use James sperm to have a child if she chooses to do so in the future."
Ms Houghton will need to return to the Supreme Court for approval if she wants to use the sperm for IVF.
Speaking outside court last week Ms Houghton's solicitor Stephen Ungerer said he hoped no one else would have to go through this.
Ms Houghton declined to comment, Mr Ungerer told The Sunday Mail.
In June last year Dr Jennifer Johanna Gaffney, 36, an anaesthetist and mother of one from Coorparoo, was granted the right by the Brisbane Supreme Court to use sperm removed from her dead husband in November 2018, after he died from a heart attack aged 38.
And in June 2018 Toowoomba bank teller Ayla Belinda Cresswell, then 24, was given court approval to start a family using the sperm of her partner of three years, bricklayer Joshua Davies, nearly two years after his death.