October 08, 2015
by Professor Bonnie Steinbock, Ph.D., The Bioethics Program
Yet another dispute by a divorced couple over what to do with their frozen embryos is in the news. This one may lead to new legal rules over how to decide such cases.
Dr. Mimi Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before her marriage to Stephen Findley in 2010. Informed that pregnancy would be unadvisable, as Dr. Lee would have to take a drug that could harm the fetus, the couple created five frozen embryos. Mr. Findley began having doubts about the relationship shortly after they were married, and asked for a divorce in 2013. The divorce became final in April 2015.
California law requires fertility clinics to offer couples creating frozen embryos a consent agreement about their disposition in case of death or divorce. The consent agreement signed by the couple stated that the embryos were to be destroyed if the couple divorced. Part of the dispute is about the status of the consent agreement. His lawyers say that it is a binding legal contract. Her lawyers regard it as a mere advance directive that either side could change. Dr. Lee also maintains that she merely skimmed the agreement, which she signed at a turbulent time in her life.
Many people think the issue should be resolved solely by looking at the contract. The advantage of this approach is that it is definite and provides security for the parties. However,sometimes people should be able to change their minds, even if they have signed a contract.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.