Family Law Prof Blog

Editor: Margaret Ryznar
Indiana University
Robert H. McKinney School of Law

Friday, April 23, 2010

Embryo Adoption Dispute Between Two Married Couples

Two Missouri couples are battling over the fate of unimplanted embryos transferred by contract in 2009:

Edward and Kerry Lambert of Pleasanton filed suit this week in Alameda County Superior Court seeking to regain power over two frozen embryos they donated - or, as both religious families put it, gave up for adoption - to Patrick and Jennifer McLaughlin.

Jennifer McLaughlin also filed suit in Missouri to maintain legal custody of the embryos.

Kerry Lambert and Jennifer McLaughlin met in January 2009 via a Web site designed to facilitate embryo donation. The Lamberts had four embryos left over from an in-vitro fertilization procedure that had successfully given them a son in 2007.

All of their embryos were created in 2006 using the sperm of Edward Lambert, now 53, and the egg of an anonymous donor. The Lamberts considered their family complete, but didn't want to destroy the extra embryos or donate them to science.

Jennifer and Patrick McLaughlin, a 42-year-old attorney, had tried getting pregnant without success. They had already adopted five children, now ages 4 to 11, but wanted to expand their family.

Both families signed a contract in February 2009 granting custody of the embryos to the McLaughlins. The contract was a pro forma one previously drafted to satisfy the Catholic church's doctrine regarding the sanctity of life, according to Al Watkins, the attorney for Jennifer McLaughlin.

The contract is unusual in that it states that if the McLaughlins didn't implant the embryos within a year, the Lamberts could revoke the agreement. Watkins called the clause "a safety valve" so that if the embryos aren't used, the donors can find another solution.

The four embryos have always been stored at a fertility clinic in San Ramon, and McLaughlin flew to the Bay Area, where two of them were implanted on May 21, 2009. She gave birth to brown-haired, blue-eyed twin girls - Sarah Estelle and Anna Isabelle - on Jan. 8.

She said she delayed making a final decision about what would happen to the two remaining embryos.

The former first-grade teacher said she knew raising seven children would be incredibly demanding and wanted to see how she and her family coped before deciding whether to add two more to their brood. She has now decided she wants to try to give birth to the remaining embryos.

"I've always wanted to have a big family," she said. "Siblings should be kept together."

But she said she got e-mails from Kerry Lambert starting in December, saying she'd found another family to take the remaining embryos.

Last week, Jennifer McLaughlin received a phone call from the San Ramon fertility clinic saying the Lamberts intended to reclaim the embryos, prompting the filing of the lawsuits.

The Lamberts have refused to provide more details about why they want the embryos back. Jennifer McLaughlin, on the other hand, has hired a publicist and appeared on national television to discuss the case.

The San Ramon clinic has agreed to keep the embryos until the case is resolved in court. A hearing date in the Missouri case is set for Wednesday.

Read more here.


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