Embryo Disposition Disputes: Controversies and Case Law image

Hastings Center Report, July/August 2016, Vol. 46, Issue 5
I. Glenn Cohen (Faculty Director) & Eli Y. Adashi


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When prospective parents use in vitro fertilization, many of them hope to generate more embryos than they intend to implant immediately. The technology often requires multiple attempts to reach a successful pregnancy, and couples can cryopreserve any excess embryos so that they have them on hand for later attempts. As part of obtaining informed consent for IVF or cryopreservation, clinics typically ask patients to specify their preferences for the embryos in the event of divorce or death, offering options such as use of the embryos by a specified partner, donation to research, or discarding the remaining embryos. Still, many courts face a recurring problem: the partners dissolve their relationship (typically through divorce), and one party wants to use the frozen embryos over the objections of the other. Courts and legislatures have struggled with how to handle these cases, which seem to pit one partner's right to procreate against the other's right not to procreate. In this essay, we use one of the most recent decisions in this line of cases—the Appellate Court of Illinois's decision in Szafranski v. Dunston—to explain the current state of the law and make recommendations for changes. The issue is ripe for revisiting because in the last year, embryo disputes have become a battlefront for larger conflagrations over the moral status of embryos.

bioethics biotechnology health law policy i. glenn cohen reproductive technologies