Legal Limbo: Frozen Embryos

by Christopher White, Ramsey Institute Project Director on July 12, 2013

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Our friends at the Human Life Review include an article by Shirley Darby Howell in the last issue of the Review on the messy world of frozen embryos and their legal statuses.

The article is primarily an expose of the current case law where courts are forced to decided how to treat frozen embryos under the law: as a person, property, or some other type of special entity. It then gets even more complicated as the courts are left to decide what to do with disputes over surplus frozen embryos—often in cases where a divorced couple is in a dispute as to whether the embryos should be donated to another couple, destroyed, or turned over to one spouse for eventual implementation.

The law cases are complicated and the solutions aren’t easy. And while the article provides a succinct and well organized overview of the general thinking and methodologies used to decide these cases, here’s my brief takeaway: There will always be legal victories in these cases, but ultimately no one wins when we continue to allow for the deconstruction of our bodies through the buying, selling, and freezing of human eggs and sperm.

While lawyers and doctors may be quick to caution that couples pursuing IVF should carefully think about all these aspects of what to do with their surplus embryos and urge for precise and well-crafted contracts, perhaps we ought to begin to rethink the whole process and begin putting the breaks on an industry and procedure that is rapidly charging ahead — while broken families, exploited women, donor conceived children, and others are left to make sense of the mess.

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