New Law is First Ever to Protect Unborn Babies Stored in Fertility Clinics From Destruction When Couples Divorce

Bioethics   |   Micaiah Bilger   |   Jul 20, 2018   |   12:35PM   |   Phoenix, Arizona

A new Arizona law recognizes the worth of unborn babies at their earliest stage of life by giving the custody of frozen embryos to a divorced parent who wants them to be born.

The law addresses a growing legal problem involving in vitro fertilization and the human embryos who are created and frozen during the process. The infertility procedure typically involves creating multiple embryos in the laboratory, and then implanting one or more in the mother’s womb. Others are stored for later use.

In several closely-watched legal battles occurring right now, couples who created the embryos and then split up have been arguing about the embryos’ fate, often with one parent wanting them destroyed and the other wanting to give them a chance at life.

Arizona Senate Bill 1393 gives legal custody to the partner who wants the embryos to “develop to birth,” according to U.S. News and World Report. The law also vacates the other partner’s responsibilities and rights to the child, and they “have no obligation to child support.”

Arizona is the first state to move to protect the lives of human embryos, who, though in the earliest stage of development, already have their own unique DNA. The law went into effect July 1.

Here’s more from the report:

Inspired by the case of Ruby Torres, who went to court over frozen embryos belonging to her and her husband, the bill’s purpose is to protect a person’s right to their embryos.

“This bill protects a parent’s right to his or her in vitro embryos in a divorce proceeding. A spouse in Ruby’s position should not lose his or her embryos simply because the other spouse no longer wants to be a parent,” a summary of the bill states. “This bill balances the interests of the spouses by removing any right, obligation, or interest between the spouse that no longer wants to be a parent and any resulting child.”

Torres and her husband, John Joseph Terrell, created seven embryos after Torres was diagnosed with cancer and before she underwent chemotherapy. When the couple divorced some years later, they went to court to argue over custody of the frozen embryos. Torres wanted to preserve them because they were her only chance to have a child, and Terrell said he had no interest in having children with his ex-wife.

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A judge ruled that neither would get custody, instead the embryos would be preserved and put up for donation. Torres has appealed the decision.

By donation, the article means adoption. Some couples are adopting embryos that otherwise might have been destroyed or frozen indefinitely to give them a chance at life.

Abortion activists and others have criticized the Arizona law as a roundabout way of “establishing the ‘personhood’ of unborn embryos,” The Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Barbara Collura, president of the infertility group Resolve, also opposed the measure, claiming it could be “exceedingly painful” for a parent to have children born against their wishes, according to the report.

Collura did not seem to consider that it also would be extremely painful for a parent to be forced to have their embryos destroyed. Many of these parents believe their embryos already are unique human beings who deserve the chance to live.

One of the most high profile cases involves actress Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiance, Nick Loeb. Vergara and Loeb have been fighting for more than two years about the fate of their frozen embryos, who Loeb named Emma and Isabella. Loeb, an actor and producer, wants the girls to have a chance to live, while the “Modern Family” actress wants them to remain frozen or be destroyed. The couple had the embryos created several years ago for in vitro fertilization, but they later split.

Experts believe millions of human embryos are frozen in storage across the United States.