Publication Details

M. Leiboff, 'Of the monstrous regiment and the family jewels' (2005) 23 The Australian Feminist Law Journal 33-59.


This article seeks to engage with the deeply-imbricated anxieties about post-mortem sperm harvesting, and its subsequent use by widows and fiances, in a small body of case law from Queensland and Victoria and the 2005 recommendations of the Victorian Law Reform Commission. It does so by suggesting that these anxieties can be uncovered through unstated cultural resonances about the 'proper' function of men and women in reproduction. These resonances recall some of the responses to supposed 'unnatural' and 'monstrous' behaviours of women, as they were characterised in the initial stages of the early modern period, when the emerging reason and rationality of the new social form collided with superstition and irrational explanations for human conduct. The deep sense of disquiet, and indeed disgust, at the thought that a woman would 'plunder' and 'violate' the body of her deceased spouse in order to achieve a pregnancy after her husband's death continues into the 21st century. These responses persist with respect to post-mortem sperm harvesting, though there is now general acceptance of postmortem organ donation, which, until recently, was also the subject of disquiet.