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A Legacy of Litigation : Can sperm be bequeathed? Deborah Hecht--pictured above with lover William Kane shortly before his suicide--is in the midst of a court battle with his children. Rarely has such a personal and private possession caused such a tenacious and public crusade.

November 10, 1994|CARLA HALL

She calls it her child. She even has a name for it. Boy or girl, it will be called Wyatt. But she's way ahead of herself. Deborah Hecht isn't even pregnant. At this point, her child is no more than 15 vials of sperm chilling for the past three years at a Westwood sperm bank.

She'll be lucky to get any of them.

Certainly, they were intended for her. She even went along with her longtime lover, William Kane, on his several trips in 1991 to deposit sperm for her future insemination.

But beyond that, nothing about what they did was as simple as it looked.

For Kane, a brilliant businessman, the trips to the sperm bank were just some of the personal missions he needed to complete before he killed himself. For Hecht, distraught over her lover's suicidal intentions, the trips were a way to soothe a man beleaguered by his demons.

When Bill Kane finally did commit suicide in October, 1991, at age 48, the only thing his death laid to rest was his body.

Almost immediately, Hecht, the major beneficiary of the estate, found herself pitted against Kane's grown son and daughter and embroiled in a legal battle that continues to this day. They've fought over money, furniture, and whether or not Deborah Hecht could have saved Kane from his death.

But mostly they've fought over sperm--the most coveted and least monetarily valuable item of the estate.

For Hecht, 39, the sperm is the legacy of the man she once loved--and her only chance to have his baby. For the Kane children, the sperm is a grotesquerie--a reminder of their father's strangely orchestrated death and the woman who didn't stop him. They want the sperm destroyed.

While there's some unexplored legal territory here--can a person bequeath sperm the way you will someone a bracelet?--the rougher terrain is the landscape of emotions. Rarely has such a personal and deeply private possession caused such a tenacious and public crusade.

Upping the psychological ante is the children's choice of attorney: their mother, Pasadena attorney Sandra Irwin.

Even a Superior Court judge's Solomonic decision last March to give Hecht three vials of sperm has gone unenforced as the children appeal the ruling.

Both sides have girded themselves in hurt, anger and a certain amount of self-righteousness.

"If he had just dropped dead one day and there was sperm lying around, I would not have said a thing," says Kane's 23-year-old son, Everett, who believes that Hecht used the sperm as a lever to get as much of the estate as possible from his father.

But in the end--once his many creditors are paid--Kane's estate of nearly $1 million may be worth virtually nothing.

"The sperm has created an impassable issue," says Gary M. Ruttenberg, the attorney for the administrator of the estate. "I don't think either side is fighting over money."

So why would Hecht continue to fight two people (who show no signs of capitulating) for sperm (which is no guarantee of pregnancy)?

Because she believes this is her future. This is her baby.

"The child has become more than just Bill Kane's child," she says. "The child has its own identity. It's not about Bill so much, do you understand?"

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Indeed, many people do not understand. Those who don't know Hecht are mystified, even scornful. The people who do know her bring gifts for the baby-to-be.

Embattled or not, married or not, Deborah Hecht is 39 and wants to have a baby. The way she sees it, the traditional choices are unsatisfactory: "I can have the child of a man whom I don't know with sperm from a sperm bank--and then face dealing with that later. The second choice is I can find a man I know and say, 'Can I have your child?' . . . Or if I were to push a man into marrying me for a child then that child will probably end up being the child of a divorce."

Or there's the option she's chosen: "To have a child by a man I know I love, who loved me, and then be a single mother by choice. That seems to be the most sensible choice."

The fact that Kane killed himself is not an issue for Hecht.

"I met a man and loved a man and watched a man who made a conscious decision that it was time for him to go," she says. "And just because it doesn't fit your image or picture of the way you think it's supposed to be doesn't mean it can't be that way."

When she met Bill Kane in 1985, he was president of a Los Angeles bank subsidiary that invested in real estate. She had moved around--growing up in New York, going to college in San Francisco, teaching elementary school in the Bay Area, then moving to Hawaii and running jewelry stores with a business partner/boyfriend. She first encountered Kane while working for a real estate executive head hunter. Kane and Hecht met to do business together. But a relationship quickly brewed. They courted on the phone.

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