Pre-embryos and legal challanges

As some Florida couples may know, the ability to freeze fertilized eggs has been available for more than 30 years. Legal challenges to who should decide what happens to the fertilized eggs continue.

Eggs that are frozen after fertilization are referred to as pre-embryos and not considered an embryo until implantation occurs. The legal questions arise as to which individual, the woman who donated the eggs or the man that provided the sperm, has a right to decide the fate of the pre-embryos. In some states, the decision rests on the contract between the two. Many fertilization clinics use a contract that both parties sign or a legal contract might be drawn up between the individuals saying what should happen to the pre-embryos in the future. Other states rule in favor of the party who wishes to avoid having children by such means.

In Illinois, a couple decided to donate eggs and sperm to create pre-embryos when the woman learned she would need chemotherapy that would render her infertile. The eggs were frozen and, after chemotherapy was begun, the couple broke up. The man had no problem with maintaining the pre-embryos for future use. As time wore on and another relationship ensued, different feelings emerged. He maintained that he would be looked upon as not being involved in his biological child's life if the woman conceived and had a baby from his sperm. The woman said that she would assume all responsibility, and the court decided that, since she was infertile due to the chemotherapy, her right to have the child trumped his issue with privacy.

As this case illustrates, weighing a father's rights against the mother's needs may be difficult. Enlisting the assistance of an attorney in either drawing up an appropriate agreement or reviewing one that has been prepared may be advisable for a party contemplating this procedure.

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