Wednesday, July 18, 2018
Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says.
The Washington Post (Jul. 17, 2018): Who gets the embryos? Whoever wants to make them into babies, new law says, by Ariana Eunjung Cha:
New court cases cases are grappling with the decision of what to do with frozen embryos created during a marriage that later dissolves. In many cases that Cha reports on, the couples chose to create and freeze several embryos in the wake of a cancer diagnosis and treatment schedule that threatened later fertility.
When these same couples faced divorce, there were bitter divides over what should be done with the embryos: one party wanted to maintain "ownership" of the embryos for a future chance at children while the other wanted the embryos destroyed, fearing unwanted future financial or relationship obligations.
With the number of frozen embryos in the United States soaring into the millions, disputes over who owns them are also on the rise. Judges have often — but not always — ruled in favor of the person who does not want the embryos used, sometimes ordering them destroyed, following the theory that no one should be forced to become a parent.
In Arizona, though, a "first-in-the-nation law" went into effect on July 1 that states "custody of disputed embryos must be given to the party who intends to help them 'develop to birth.'"
The legislation represents for some lawmakers the idea that frozen embryos have their own right to life, and many imagine that the implications could eventually include a delineation of when life begins and a claim to a separate set of embryonic rights of their own as human beings (rather than the discussion being centered on who "owns" the embryos).
Some groups, like the anti-abortion Thomas More Society, advocate for that embryos to be considered "children" in the legal sense, asking judges to make decisions on disputes based on the best interest of the "child."
Debates to extend personhood to unborn embryos and fetuses abound in anti-abortion work. Abortion rights advocates are concerned that these discussions could further disintegrate the right to abortion in the United States. "If a days-old embryo in a freezer has a right to life, why not a days-old embryo in utero?"
While judges have historically ordered disputed embryos destroyed based on the wishes of the party who does not want a child, an Arizona judge chose to balance one party's "probable inability to have a child without the embryos" against the other party's "desire to not be a father" a different way.
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronee Korbin Steiner held that Ruby Torres, who wanted the embryos in order to have biological children one day, had no right to them. The judge did not order them destroyed, though, and instead ordered that they go up for donation.
Torres appealed the decision and expects a new ruling any day.
The new Arizona law that states embryos shall be given to the party who intends to develop them to birth was written in response to this case to "help" people in Torres' situation. It also attempts to recognize the rights of those who do not want the embryos used by providing that those parties would not be liable for child support in the future.
Both the judicial decisions and the legislation continue to prove extremely controversial:
The Center for Arizona Policy, a conservative lobbying group that has successfully pushed antiabortion legislation in the state, supported the measure, saying the bill would “lead to more consistent rulings.”
The American Society for Reproductive Medicine, which represents doctors, nurses and other professionals who work on fertility issues, opposed the measure, arguing that it would have a profound impact on reproductive medicine.
Medical professionals foresee profound complications to stem-cell research in particular, which relies on embryos donated to science. Such research is believed essential in developing treatments for many diseases and conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's. The treatment and storage of embryos as a result of the new legislation will likely make embryonic stem cells much more scarce.
In a friend-of-the-court brief in Torres' pending appellate case, the Academy of Adoption and Assisted Reproduction Attorneys urged judges in the Arizona Court of Appeals to balance the interest of each former spouse. They argue that the parties claims are not equal and that "the constitutional protection against compulsory parenthood is [generally] greater than any procreative interest in pre-embryos."
Time will tell both if the appellate judges affirm Judge Steiner's controversial ruling (likely leading to further appeals) while we also wait for the inevitable challenges to Arizona's new embryo law.