April 6

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50 Years of Struggles: Legal Battles Over In-Vitro Fertilization in the United States


 

Introduction

In-vitro fertilization (IVF) is the core medical procedure in which an egg is fertilized by sperm outside the body. It enables intended parents to trust a surrogate mother with the carrying of their hopes to be able to raise a child. As such, it is at the very heart of the mission of surrogacy agencies like Los Angeles Surrogacy LLC.

In vitro fertilization has become a widely utilized reproductive technology since its inception in the late 20th century. Over the past century, the United States has seen numerous legal battles surrounding this technology, as it brings forth crucial ethical, social, and legal questions, such as:

  • What are the respective legal responsibilities of the parties involved in an IVF procedure?
  • What is the legal status of the pre-embryo? Is the pre-embryo “property” or “person” in the eyes of the law?
  • When a couple divorces, what happens to their frozen embryos?
  • Can embryos be donated to research?
  • What is the respective legal status of embryos and pre-embryos in the united States?
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But what are the critical legal cases that have shaped the landscape of IVF in the United States in the past 50 years? Let’s review some of them.

  1. Del Zio v. Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center (1978)

In one of the earliest legal cases involving IVF, Mario and Elsa Del Zio sued Columbia Presbyterian Medical Center for their frozen embryos’ mishandling. The couple accused the hospital of negligence after the embryos were destroyed due to a laboratory accident. While the court did not explicitly address the legal status of the embryos, this case marked the beginning of legal discourse surrounding IVF and the rights and responsibilities of parties involved in the process. The court ruled in favor of Mario and Elsa Del Zio.

  1. York v. Jones (1989)
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In this landmark case, Steven and Risa York sued the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine for their right to transfer their frozen pre-embryo from the institute to another facility. The court ruled in favor of the Yorks, holding that the pre-embryo had a unique legal status, distinct from both property and personhood. This ruling set the stage for future legal battles addressing the complex issue of pre-embryo ownership.

  1. Davis v. Davis (1992)

In this groundbreaking case, a divorcing couple, Junior and Mary Sue Davis, disagreed over the disposition of their frozen embryos. The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that the embryos should be considered neither property nor persons, but rather “pre-embryos” occupying an intermediate status. The court held that the parties’ competing interests should be balanced, ultimately deciding that the embryos should be donated for research purposes. This case established a significant precedent for resolving disputes over frozen embryos in divorce cases.

  1. Kass v. Kass (1998)
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In this case, the New York Court of Appeals addressed the issue of pre-embryo disposition in a divorce proceeding. Maureen and Steven Kass had previously signed a consent agreement stipulating that their frozen embryos would be donated for research purposes in the event of a divorce. The court ruled that the couple’s contract was valid and enforceable, upholding the donation of the embryos for research.

  1. Z. v. B.Z. (2000)

The Massachusetts Supreme Court faced a similar dispute in this case, where a divorcing couple disagreed over the disposition of their frozen embryos. The court ruled that the wife, who wished to use the embryos to have a child, could not do so against her ex-husband’s wishes. This decision emphasized the importance of informed consent and the right to avoid unwanted parenthood in IVF disputes.

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Embryos and Pre-Embryos: What Are Their Respective Legal Status?

In the United States, the legal status of embryos and pre-embryos varies among jurisdictions, as there is no unified federal law explicitly addressing their status. The terminology and legal classifications have evolved over time through court cases and state legislation.

Embryos refer to fertilized eggs that have undergone several cell divisions and reached the stage of implantation in the uterus. Some states treat embryos as “property”, while others consider them to have unique, intermediate status, or “potential life,” with special respect but not equating to full personhood. This position has important implications in the field of pro-choice vs. pro-life.

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Pre-embryos, also known as pre-implantation embryos or zygotes, are the product of fertilization but have not yet reached the stage of implantation. In the case of Davis v. Davis (1992) mentioned above, the Tennessee Supreme Court ruled pre-embryos are “neither property nor persons”, but rather occupy “an intermediate status”. In other states, courts have rejected this approach, leading to a patchwork of different legal treatments at state level.

Legal battles surrounding IVF, embryo and pre-embryo disposition in cases of divorce, and related disputes have shaped the landscape of this area of law. Many court decisions have been based on factors such as the parties’ intentions, contracts, and the specific circumstances surrounding the cases.

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For future parents resorting to IVF and surrogacy agreements, the matter of the jurisdiction in which the contracts are drawn with the medical facility performing the IVF and, in surrogacy cases, with the surrogate mother, is therefore of crucial importance. The lack of uniformity in court rulings and state laws implies that the legal status of embryos and pre-embryos in the United States remains a subject of debate and will continues to evolve.

In Summary

These cases represent just a fraction of the many disputes that have arisen over the past century. As our society grapples with the ethical and legal implications of life-changing technologies like IVF, it is crucial to understand the precedents set by these landmark cases and their implications for the future of reproductive medicine.

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Los Angeles Surrogacy is committed to raising awareness of couples and intended mothers stricken with infertility issues, who long to become parents and raise a child of their own. The wonderful gift of child adoption is not for everyone. For many, surrogacy is the better answer to their hopes of creating a family. Until reproductive medicine finds a full answer to the genetic issues related to fertility, surrogacy will remain the only way (beside prayers) for intended parents to enter parenthood.

The staff at Los Angeles Surrogacy is trained on all the aspects of surrogacy, to ensure that intended parents and surrogate mothers accomplish together the goals they set for themselves at the very beginning of this journey called surrogacy pregnancy.

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