Wills, Trusts & Estates Prof Blog

Editor: Gerry W. Beyer
Texas Tech Univ. School of Law

Monday, September 16, 2019

A Woman’s AncestryDNA Test Revealed a Medical Secret

CordbloodWhen Holly Becker was in her twenties, she was treated for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma by undergoing an umbilical-cord-blood transplant. For ethical reasons, donations from infant umbilical-cord blood have been strictly anonymous for almost 30 years. But Becker, using the mail-in DNA test provided by AncestryDNA, discovered that the cells of the donor from two decades are still within her when her results exactly matched those of a young man in New York, and she was able to meet him.

After numerous rounds of chemo that ultimately failed, Becker was near death when her doctor suggested the then-novel procedure of transplanting cord blood from a stranger. Doctors would destroy Becker’s own cancerous cells before infusing her with hematopoietic stem cells - which are plentiful in cord blood - from a healthy matched donor. Those cells would eventually divide to replace all the blood in her, and Becker did not recover entirely from the grueling procedure for two years. But she stayed healthy, and she always wondered whose blood saved her life.

Becker was not trying to find the anonymous donor when she used the DNA kit. She was just curious about her family history. But she matched to her donor's mother, Dania Davey, as if she was indeed was Davey's daughter. They both thought it was mistake by the company. After some research and another patient of Becker's oncologist getting odd results from AncestryDNA, they discovered the truth. The DNA in saliva, it turns out, can come from white blood cells (which should have the donor’s DNA) that guard against bacteria in the mouth. In fact, many mail-in DNA test companies advice against patients that have undergone bone-marrow or cord-blood transplants against taking their tests, as the mix of genetic material can cause them to fail. Or, the test could pinpoint the donor's DNA.

To prove their hypothesis, Davey's 25-year-old son, Patrick, took a test. And he matched the original records for Becker’s anonymous donor, and Dania had in fact donated his cord blood when he was an infant. For more than two decades, Becker had carried Patrick's DNA inside of her.

See Sarah Zhang, A Woman’s AncestryDNA Test Revealed a Medical Secret, The Atlantic, September 13, 2019.

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 16, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Clinic Ordered To Reveal Sperm Donor List After Baby Mix Up

IVFKristina Koedderich and Drew Wasilewski underwent IVF in hopes of having a child, and in 2013 after spending nearly $500,000 for the procedure, they gave birth to a baby girl. But after two years, they started to notice that the daughter's feature did not exactly match the Caucasian features of her parents. She appeared Asian. A DNA test confirmed that Wasilewski was not her biological father, though he was intended to be.

The now-divorced couple claim that there was a severe mistake by the Institute for Reproductive Medicine and Science in Livingston, New Jersey, in which they impregnated Koedderich with the sperm of another man. Koedderich and Wasilewski claim the clinic's negligence caused "the breakdown of the marriage." They are suing the clinic for unspecified damages, and their attorney, David Mazie, said that, "It's been devastating for them."

There is also a question of what exactly happened to Wasilewski's sperm? Does he now have a biological child or children somewhere? Superior Court Judge Keith Lynott ordered the institute to hand over a list of all the men and women that were using or had used the facility around the same time as the couple. They also want to know the identity of the their daughter's biological parent. The girl, now six, has been diagnosed with a blood disorder associated with Southeast Asian heritage.

See Clinic Ordered To Reveal Sperm Donor List After Baby Mix Up, NPR.org, September 11, 2019.

Special thanks to Laura Galvan (Attorney, San Antonio, Texas) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 12, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, New Cases, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, September 9, 2019

How a Nearly Brain Dead 'Miracle Man' Survived After Being Taken Off Life Support

BrainscanT. Scott Marr allegedly suffered a stroke in December of 2018 in his Nebraska home and was rushed to Methodist Hospital where he was placed on life support. The attending doctors did not believe that he would survive and his condition worsened with severe brain swelling. His four children were faced with the difficult decision on whether to take their 61-year-old father off the machines that kept him alive.

After saying good-bye in his hospital room, the children decided to take him off life support and even planned to have the funeral the very next day. But instead of quickly fading away, Marr started to respond and regain functions. Soon he was able to smile and move his hands and toes.

Imaging revealed that Marr did not have a stroke, but actually had posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES), with an uncommon symptom being brain swelling. This explains why doctors misdiagnosed the man.

Thankfully, PRES includes a good prognosis and ability to manage, as was the outcome in this case.

See Dr. Manny Alvarez, How a Nearly Brain Dead 'Miracle Man' Survived After Being Taken Off Life Support, Fox News, September 8, 2019.

September 9, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, September 6, 2019

‘World’s Oldest Mom’ Gives Birth to Twins at Age 74 After IVF

IVFErramatti Mangayamma, a 74-year-old woman in India, now holds the record as the "world's oldest mother" after she gave birth to twins via IVF, using donor eggs. Erramatti and her husband, Rajarao, 80, welcomed twin daughters this week after they went through one round of IVF in January. The healthy babies were born via C-section, with no complications and both weighing approximately 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds).

The delivery surpasses that of 70-year-old Daljinder Kaur, who previously held the record for oldest recorded age at birth.

See Alexandria Hein, ‘World’s Oldest Mom’ Gives Birth to Twins at Age 74 After IVF, Hospital Claims, Fox News, September 6, 2019.

September 6, 2019 in Current Events, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 5, 2019

Optimism Key to Living Longer? This Study Says So

HappyA study of more than 69,000 female health professionals ages 58 to 86, and more than 1,400 male veterans ages 41 to 90, who were followed for 10 to 30 years, concluded that a sunny disposition may indeed lengthen your life. The participants who reported the highest levels of optimism were 50% to 70% more likely to live to age 85 or beyond.

The results were steady even when researchers took into account other factors including health conditions such as heart disease, cancer or depression. But other health behaviors such as smoking, excessive drinking, or poor diets lessened the link, possibly due to the fact that optimistic people are more inclined to have positive health habits. In other words "optimism may foster health-promoting habits and bolster resistance of unhealthy impulses," the authors, from Boston University School of Medicine, wrote in their study, published August. 26 in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The study only shows an association between longevity and optimism, not a certainty. The study mainly included white people with a high socioeconomic status and did not factor in whether participants had lost a job or experienced the death of a loved one, which could also affect the results. More studies are needed, the authors concluded, to determine if optimism truly benefits short and long term health.

See Rachael Rettner, Optimism Key to Living Longer? This Study Says So, Fox News, September 2, 2019.

September 5, 2019 in Current Events, Elder Law, Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 3, 2019

Baby Born Through Embryo Donation Years After Being Frozen, Stored

IVFA couple that has difficulty conceiving may go through the timely and costly process of in vitro fertilization. If they are lucky enough to have healthy embryos after their family is complete, they are faced with a decision: to either destroy the embryos, donate them to science, or donate them to other private individuals. This third choice has been referred to as embryo adoption though it is not legally an adoption. The term adoption in the U.S. applies only to the placement of a child after they are born.

Assistive Reproductive Technology (ART) is on the rise in America. 284,385 ART cycles were attempted in the U.S. in 2017, with 78,052 resulting live births according to the Center for Disease Control. The CDC said the main type of ART reported in the U.S. is IVF, with an estimated 1.7% of all children born in the U.S. each year being conceived through ART.

The Tos of Colorado had their own "normal" in vitro fertilization experience when they used it to conceive their son, Lathan, in June 2013. However, their future baby was the product of the only viable embryo. After a failed round of IVF, they were debating traditional adoption when they saw an advertisement for embryo adoption.  The first attempt did not take, but the second time resulted in a healthy pregnancy with an embryo that had been frozen and stored for three years. “I got to experience the bond that comes with nursing and I got to carry Alex inside me for nine months and that was very special,” Michele To said.

The Tos also said they are hopeful about expanding their family again through embryo adoption and would like to choose an embryo genetically related to Alex.

See Alexandria Hein, Baby Born Through Embryo Donation Years After Being Frozen, Stored, Fox News, September 3, 2019.

September 3, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)

Breaking the Silence: Dealing with Mental Health Issues in Estate Planning

MentalillnessEstate planners, in their role in advising such an intimate aspect of their clients' lives, deal with a vast array of diverse individuals. Many of those clients may be affected by a family member with a mental illness or in fact be affect by a mental illness themselves.

Statistics show that more people are touched by mental illness than previously thought, as many as one in five Canadians. The taboos of the past dictating silence on the issue should be shoved aside so that there can be an honest and open discussion between all involved. Mental illnesses and their affects on a child's or grandchild's ability to provide for themselves should be considered in a thorough estate plan. Protection can be accomplished through a trust with instructions to the trustee to pay income and capital for their child's benefit, but also the ability to terminate the trust should the protection of a trust not be necessary when their child reaches a more mature age. 

As mental illnesses a highlighted more in the public eye and not seen as the stigma that they once were, more people will understand their loved ones as well as their needs.

See Margaret O'Sullivan, Breaking the Silence: Dealing with Mental Health Issues in Estate Planning, O'Sullivan Law, August 30, 2019.

Special thanks to Jim Hillhouse (Professional Legal Marketing (PLM, Inc.)) for bringing this article to my attention.

September 3, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Administration, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Trusts, Wills | Permalink | Comments (0)

Saturday, August 31, 2019

Comment on Death with Dignity for the Seemingly Undignified: Denial of Aid in Dying in Prison

Kathleen S. Messinger recently published a Comment, Death with Dignity for the Seemingly Undignified: Denial of Aid in Dying in Prison, 109 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 633-673 (2019). Provided below is an abstract of the Comment.

The medical community has fundamentally changed how we think about life and death. Humans in privileged parts of the world are living longer and have access to life-saving treatment. The focus on quantity of life then has shifted to emphasizing quality of life and questioning whether longevity should at the expense of comfort or satisfaction. The conversation surrounding quality of life, and by extension end-of-life care, has included whether a competent adult has a right, or should have a right to end their own life on their own terms. The history of aid in dying is wrought with political ideology, notions of morality, and discussions of autonomy. In the wake of an aging population, aid in dying is more relevant now than ever. Aid in dying is often supported by notions of autonomy and dignity in choosing the conditions of if, when, and how to end one's life, however, there is one noticeable segment of the population entirely left out: incarcerated individuals. The incarcerated population is particularly relevant to the aid in dying conversation because, as the justice system continues to balloon and incarcerate more people, prisons are overcrowded, underfunded, and ill-equipped to support terminally ill and aging inmates. This leaves the aging incarcerated population vulnerable. As states continue to contemplate and pass legislation that permits aid in dying in particular circumstances, one is left wondering how, if at all, this legislation will affect those incarcerated. Early signs, in the form of prison policies and regulations, of how prisons will approach aid in dying for qualifying inmates suggests that the same dignitary respect afforded to non-incarcerated folk is explicitly forbidden to inmates in prison.

This Comment seeks to answer the question of who may choose to die on their own terms, in their own way. If we find that incarcerated individuals have a right to aid in dying, are there reasons or justifications for why we should not permit it?

August 31, 2019 in Articles, Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, New Legislation, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

US Throwing Away 3,500 Donated Kidneys Every Year

Kidney93,000 people are currently on the United States transplant list desperately waiting for a kidney and 5,000 people - approximately 12 a day - die without ever getting one. However, at least 3,500 donated kidneys are disposed of every year, according to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine on Monday.

Between 2004 and 2014, 156,089 kidneys were donated from deceased donors, but only 128,102 were transplanted. This means that in 10 years 27,987 kidneys (more than 17% of those donated) were discarded. And this number continued to increase, according to the researchers: in 2016, 3,621 kidneys (about 20%) were discarded. This could be contributed to the fact that American doctors are less willing than doctors of other countries to use kidneys from older patients or from those that had hypertension or diabetes.

A reason for this hesitation by doctors is "intense regulatory scrutiny of US transplant programs, which may lose credentials if their one-year death and graft failure outcomes exceed predicted outcomes." So if the donated organ is not in pristine condition, transplant centers may not want to risk their credentials. Many of the discarded kidneys are in fact unusable, such as those in bad shape or had a negative biopsy. But a study by the National Kidney Foundation in 2016 found that as many as 50% of discarded deemed unfit could have in fact been transplanted.

Patients with kidney disease currently cost the government $114 billion each year, and Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar stated, "That is one-fifth the spending of all Medicare dollars."

See Jen Christensen, The US is Throwing Away at Least 3,500 Donated Kidneys Every Year, Study Finds, CNN, August 26, 2019.

August 27, 2019 in Estate Planning - Generally, Science | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, August 15, 2019

What Should I Do With My Dead Dog?

AquamationSisters Joslin Roth and Darci Bernard realized years ago that there was a need in Seattle for pet death care. Ms. Roth says that "you could do stand-up paddleboard yoga with your dog but couldn’t visit a death care provider." So in December 2016 the pair opened Resting Waters in West Seattle where they offer their clients aquamation, a water-based alternative to flame-based cremation.

Jerry Shevick, a former television executive, knew that the pet industry as a whole increases every year. Understanding this fact as well as the knowledge that owners want to care for their furry loved ones as they would a child or family member, he started Peaceful Pets Aquamation in Newbury Park, California, in 2013. He offers the service because of the decreased carbon footprint, stating that aquamation “really uses the same components that natural decomposition uses. With people paying attention to climate change, it’s becoming more interesting to people as well.”

The pet death industry is not yet as regulated as human funeral services. Occasionally, though, someone seeking to open an aquamation facility will have difficulty convincing wastewater-treatment officials that the process is sufficiently pure. Nearly 20 states that have recently legalized aquamation as a means of dealing with human corpses including Washington and California.

See Mike Seely, What Should I Do With My Dead Dog?, New York Times, August 12, 2019.

Special thanks to Lewis Saret (Attorney, Washington, D.C.) for bringing this article to my attention.

August 15, 2019 in Current Affairs, Estate Planning - Generally, Science, Technology | Permalink | Comments (0)