The latest chapter in the embryo wars is in California, where a couple is engaged in a bitter custody dispute over the woman’s children, currently in the form of unimplanted frozen embryos. Dr. Mimi Lee and Steven Findley underwent in vitro fertilization when Dr. Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer, making pregnancy risky. She had planned to have a genetically-related child with the help of a surrogate mother. After three years, the couple divorced. Dr. Lee, now 46, would like to have her children. Her ex-husband disagrees.
The similar 1992 Davis v. Davis embryo case in Tennessee granted embryos “special status,” but nevertheless had them destroyed. Since that time, courts have tended to consider embryos as property rather than persons. But recent rulings in Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Illinois have shown more sympathy towards women with cancer, who will not be able to have children biologically themselves. Dr. Mark Sauer, a reproductive endocrinologist, provides some clarity on the issue:
It is compelling and dramatic how these issues play out. These are embryos that will potentially live lives. It is not like you are bartering over the furniture in your house.
A decision in the case is likely within the next few weeks, and may set a new precedent.