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After divorce, couple struggles over frozen embryos

A case that is currently underway in one West Coast state will likely set legal precedent in how the courts address certain issues related to reproductive technology. The rights of two parties who both contributed genetic material that leads to the creation of an embryo are at the center of the matter. When a pregnancy and the birth of a child results, the process is deemed successful. When the parties divorce before an embryo is implanted, the issue becomes far more complicated, in Arizona and across the nation.

The case involves a couple who were once married, and who went through the steps required to create five embryos, which were subsequently frozen. The parties choose to make use of reproductive technology due to the fact that the wife had been diagnosed with cancer. With a high risk that the treatment would render her infertile, they chose to create and freeze the embryos for later use. The couple divorced, however, and are now unable to reach an agreement on what should be done with the embryos.

Both parties signed an agreement at the time of the procedure that states that any resulting embryos would be destroyed in the event of a divorce. However, the woman is claiming that she signed that paperwork under extreme duress, in the midst of a cancer diagnosis and a new marriage. She wants the court to allow her to use the embryos and a surrogate to have a child that would share her genetic makeup. As for the husband, he wants the original agreement to stand, and for the embryos to be destroyed.

As this case moves forward, the outcome could shape how Arizona and other states approach the every-changing field of reproductive technology. In similar cases where a female cancer survivor has asked for the right to carry through with this process after a divorce, that request has been granted. This case could continue on that path, or could result in a ruling that upholds the written agreement signed by both parties.

Source: Los Angeles Times, "Divorced couple fighting in court over frozen embryos", Maura Dolan, July 13, 2015

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