Should IVF Kids Get Social Security Benefits When Conceived After Parent Dies

Opinion   |   Rebecca Taylor   |   Mar 27, 2012   |   12:30PM   |   Washington, DC

If children are conceived through IVF after one of the parents dies, are the children entitled to the social security benefits of the deceased parent?

That is what the U.S. Supreme Court is deciding in Astrue v. Capato. Before Robert Capato died of cancer, he banked his sperm. A year later his widow, Karen Capato, used that sperm to create IVF embryos and gave birth to twins. Karen applied to Social Security for “survivor” benefits for the twins, a provision added to the Social Security Act in 1939 to provide benefits to dependents of deceased wage earners. Those benefits were denied and now the case is before the Supreme Court.

This case has many facets and elicits conflicting thoughts on how the Court should rule. On one hand the fiscal conservative in me says, “No way!” Children knowingly conceived with the gametes of a deceased person are not entitled to survivor benefits. Once Robert died, the marriage was over making Karen a single mother.

But the Catholic pro-lifer in me realizes that this is an untenable situation for these children. They were intentionally brought into this world never to know their father. They have been wronged by an out of control fertility industry that willingly creates life in a dish, en masse, for any reason, for anyone. An industry that purposefully and knowingly creates children that will never meet their father. If anyone needs our compassion and our support, it is these twins who, in this Brave New World, are forced to argue, to the Supreme Court, that they deserve their father’s benefits. They are as much children of God as anyone who was naturally conceived and should not be punished for the decisions of their genetic parents.

The Life Legal Defense Foundation, a pro-life organization whose mission is to “give innocent and helpless human beings of any age, particularly unborn children, a trained and committed defense against the threat of death, and to support their advocates in the nation’s courtrooms,” agrees. Along with Jennifer Lahl, director of Center for Bioethics and Culture Network, Dr. Anthony Caruso, a former IVF practitioner, Stephanie Blessing and Kathleen R. LaBounty, donor-conceived adults, and Kathleen Sloan, a women’s rights advocate and former Program Director at the Council for Responsible Genetics, the Life Legal Defense Fund submitted a friend of the court brief in favor of the Capatos.

The brief is clear that while IVF itself is problematic, the posthumously conceived children “are entitled to full human love and respect.” In addition to supporting the twins, these pro-life and pro-choice professionals wanted to bring to the attention of the Court the “highly problematic side of IVF.” The brief states:

While often portrayed as a purely positive development in technology, IVF, with its numerous medical complications, invasive procedures, and commercialization of human reproduction, in fact poses a range of risks to children, parents, donors/sellers of genetic material, and society at large.

The brief lists genetic issues caused by IVF, risks to egg donors, and emotional issues of anonymous sperm donor conceived children are who intentionally deprived of their genetic father. It urges the Court to recognize “the dangers inherent in modern reproductive technologies like IVF.”

This case is one to watch. If the Supreme Court does decide to grant benefits to posthumously-conceived children, does that mean that taxpayers then have the right to regulate an industry that, so far, has successfully bucked any federal regulation? Does that mean that taxpayers can end or heavily regulate the practice of intentionally conceiving children with a dead father or mother? Will that lead to more regulations of what I consider to be an out of control fertility industry? We shall see.