As reported in the Los Angeles Times: Dr. Mimi C. Lee and Stephen E. Findley had not been married long when he began to have doubts about the relationship. Now divorced, he is fighting to prevent her from having a child with their frozen embryos, made after Lee was diagnosed with cancer.
The case, to be decided in the next several weeks, is likely to lead to the first legal rules in California for resolving embryo disputes. If Lee prevails, Findley could be forced to become a parent against his will. If Findley wins, it is extremely unlikely that Lee, now 46, will ever have a genetically related child.
In a dozen similar disputes outside California, not one state high court has permitted someone to use an embryo over an estranged partner’s objections.
But trial courts in Pennsylvania and Maryland — and an intermediate appeals court in Illinois — have in recent years ruled in favor of women who had suffered cancer and could not have biological children without the embryos.
There are an estimated 1 million frozen embryos in the U.S., but the law has been slow to catch up with technology. Legally, a person who wants to preserve fertility is less vulnerable if he or she stores frozen eggs or sperm, experts say. Medically, that person’s chances of having a child are better if an embryo is created.
Eventually, medical advances may eliminate the differing success rates.
“Technology got us into this problem, and technology will get us out,” said Judith Daar, a professor at Whittier Law School, a clinical medicine professor at UC Irvine and chair of the ethics committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. “The partners can walk away, she with her eggs and he with his sperm. And then they can fight over other things, like who gets the cat.”
The bottom line: Read the consent carefully and try to think ahead to the worst case scenario before you choose your options for the fate of your frozen embryos.