Court Rules Couple’s Frozen Human Embryos are Joint Property: Wife Says They Have a “Right to Life”

Bioethics   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Nov 18, 2016   |   1:03PM   |   Washington, DC

Modern fertility procedures are causing new legal and ethical dilemmas involving parents and their unborn children.

On Tuesday, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled on one such case involving a divorced couple’s two frozen human embryos.

Jalesia McQueen wants the embryos, created with her eggs and her ex-husband’s sperm as part of the in vitro fertilization process, to be implanted into her womb, but her ex-husband Justin Gadberry wants to either destroy or donate them to research or to an infertile couple, the AP reports.

A lower court previously ruled that the couple jointly owns the embryos, and the Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the decision on Tuesday in a 2-1 ruling, according to the Washington Post.

The ruling was a victory for Gadberry, whose attorneys argued that forcing him to become a father against his will would violate his rights.

“My client’s ex-wife has the right to have children,” his lawyer Tim Schlesinger told reporters. “But she doesn’t have the right to have children with my client without his consent.”

Here’s more from the Post:

The court made it clear in the decision that its task was not to determine when life begins but rather to interpret whether Missouri law gave an in vitro embryo the legal status of a child.

The appeals court ruled that embryos have no legal claim to the same protections as a human being under Missouri law and that to force a man to become a father would violate his privacy rights.

“The right of personal privacy extends to intimate activities and decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception and family relationships,” [Appeals Court Judge Robert M.] Clayton wrote, citing a line of Supreme Court cases including Roe v Wade. The decision “to avoid procreation . . . is protected by and ‘concerns a relationship lying within the zone of privacy created by several fundamental constitutional guarantees. Moreover, ‘if the right of privacy means anything, it is the right of the individual, married or single, to be free from unwarranted government intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”

McQueen said she plans to appeal. The pro-life mother said the embryos are human beings who deserve a right to life, and the law should recognize that. She said she already named them Noah and Genesis.

“It’s my offspring,” she told St. Louis Today. “It’s part of me, and what right do the judges or the government have to tell me I cannot have them?”

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Several pro-life groups, including Missouri Right to Life and the Thomas More Society, a pro-life legal firm, previously petitioned the court to argue on behalf of the mother for her children.

“Human embryos, no matter how small, are fully human and deserve to be treated as such,” said Thomas More Society Special Counsel Rita Gitchell previously. “Currently, the legal precedent dealing with frozen embryos is based on erroneous and misconceived ‘science’ which denies the intrinsic humanity of the human embryos, treats them as mere property, and subjects them to disposition according to the terms of private contracts to which they were neither parties nor participants in the bargaining process.”

Gitchell previously called on the courts to recognize the scientific proof that human life begins at fertilization and has its own unique DNA “shared by no other throughout eternity unless there is an identical twin or a clone.”

“The embryo’s basic right to life should go on the scales of justice along with the other unalienable rights to be secured by the government, such as parental rights,” Gitchell continued. “The Court cannot weigh a right to procreate or not to procreate, because the right to procreate was already exercised and the embryos are created.”

The Thomas More Society also filed friend of the court briefs in another high-profile case involving embryos created by “Modern Family” actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiancee Nick Loeb.

In the spring of 2015, Loeb filed a lawsuit against Vergara to stop her from destroying the pair of frozen embryos. A source close to Loeb explained that he didn’t want to see the embryos destroyed because he’s always believed that life begins at conception. The couple created the embryos through in vitro fertilization.

The celebrity case is scheduled for trial next year, according to the Washington Post.