‘Lost’ Embryos Dash Couple’s Dreams of Parenthood

As more people use assisted reproductive technologies such as in vitro fertilization (IVF) and cryopreservation to become parents, more conflicts over the treatment and disposition of unused embryos are ending up in court.

From divorce-related disputes over embryo custody to lawsuits against cryopreservation facilities that lose power, conflicts over unused embryos are increasingly common.

The New York Times recently reported on a less common sort of dispute: A couple was told that all the viable embryos they had created were thawed in a final unsuccessful IVF attempt 20 years ago at Women & Infants Hospital in Providence, Rhode Island, only to learn in their 60s that the hospital had “lost” and then found, 10 years later, two additional frozen embryos. Elaine Meyer and Barry Prizant, now 63 and 69 respectively, only learned about the two additional embryos in 2017, when they received a bill from the hospital for storage.

Last Chance at IVF Unsuccessful

After suffering three miscarriages, the couple underwent treatment at Women & Infants in 1995. After two failed IVF cycles, Meyer became pregnant with son Noah, who was born in 1996. The couple had nine remaining embryos, which they arranged to have frozen in hopes they could be used to have another child in the future.

In 2000, the couple returned to Women & Infants to try for a second child. Their physician told them he had thawed all nine remaining embryos in the process, which ultimately was unsuccessful. Then age 43, Elaine was advised to consider adoption or donor eggs. Disheartened, the couple decided to give up their dreams of a second baby and devote their attention to their son.

Twenty years later, the news that they might have had another chance at parenthood had the hospital not lost the two embryos was devastating to Meyer and Prizant. “It is our job as parents to give our children, and in this case embryos, every opportunity for life and for dignity. We were denied our right to fulfill our role as parents,” Meyer told The New York Times.

The matter apparently was made worse by the hospital’s handling of it. The hospital told Meyer and Prizant they discovered the glass vial containing the embryos, still with Meyer’s name on it, was discovered at the bottom of a tank when the tank was emptied for cleaning and maintenance. The vial was cracked, exposing the embryos to the nitrogen coolant in the tank for as long as 10 years, likely rendering them unviable. When the clinic implemented a new storage policy in 2017, Meyer and Prizant got the bill. Dissatisfied with the hospital’s response to their situation, the couple are now at the center of a lawsuit alleging breach of contract, negligence, bailment and intentional infliction of emotional distress, The hospital in a legal filing has alleged that Elaine and Barry 'were guilty of comparative negligence' but provided no further detail, the Times reports.

Embryo Custody Now Part of Divorce, Family Law

Although the case above is far from typical, the disposition of embryos, eggs and sperm is today a routine part of any divorce or separation agreement. In addition to the growing number of people using IVF to become parents, often producing unused or “excess” embryos, cryopreservation of genetic material for fertility preservation is increasingly common. Divorce and estate planning attorneys should routinely ask their clients whether they have any cryopreserved embryos, eggs or sperm in storage.

In the worst cases, one partner may sue to use embryos against the wishes of the other, as happened in the case of actress Sofia Vergara and her former fiancée. Some states have even passed laws allowing an individuals’ genetic material to be used to reproduce against the individual’s wishes (see our report on Arizona’s onerous law granting custody of embryos in divorce cases to the party willing to bring allow them to be born).

As we have reported, some IVF clinics and cryopreservation facilities also are becoming overwhelmed with the numbers of “abandoned” embryos, whose owners have stopped paying storage fees or even disappeared, leaving facilities to face the ethical and logistical questions of what to do with them.

Just as the advent of assisted reproductive technology has changed our ideas about family and parentage, the growing use of cryopreservation to build families and preserve fertility is changing divorce and family law. As is true of any new technology, legislation and case law tend to lag behind the societal changes wrought by technology. As always, the best protection for your reproductive rights and your family is to consult an attorney experienced in family and assisted reproduction law.

Richard Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn is founder and principal of International Fertility Law Group, one of the world’s largest and best-known law firms focused exclusively on assisted reproductive technology, or ART, including in vitro fertilization (IVF), surrogacy, sperm donation or egg donation. Rich is co-author of the book “Developing A Successful Assisted Reproduction Technology Law Practice,” American Bar Association Publishing, 2017.

Peiya Wang
Paralegal (律师助理)

Peiya Wang joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2015, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases and provides translation services for many of IFLG’s international clients. Peiya moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts, receiving a Master of Science degree in Global Studies and International Affairs in 2014. Peiya moved to Los Angeles in 2015, received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension, and obtained her second Master of Science degree in Legal Studies from Loyola Law School. Peiya relocated back to her hometown, Beijing, China in 2019 and works from IFLG’s Beijing office. When away from the office, Peiya is a dragon boat paddler and a ballroom dancer, where she favors Rumbas and Cha-chas. She is fluent in Mandarin and English.

Luis Sosa

Luis R. Sosa joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2016, where he enjoys pursuing his passion for family and reproductive law. While working toward his bachelor’s degree at Florida International University which he received in 2013, Luis worked as a paralegal and legal assistant for family law litigation firms in Miami and Washington, D.C. As a paralegal and case manager for IFLG, Luis, who is bilingual in English and Spanish, manages surrogacy, egg donation and other reproductive law cases. Luis has worked for IFLG in both Los Angeles as well as San Francisco, and is currently based in Dallas, Texas. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes

After receiving her B.S. in Business Management, Toni joined IFLG to pursue her dream of working in the legal field. As a Paralegal with over 10 years of experience in the assisted reproduction technology field, Toni is our Managing Paralegal, responsible for training and managing our paralegal staff. From drafting legal documents to assisting our clients with post-birth matters, Toni embraces the challenge of learning something new in this field each day. Besides spending time with her son, Jordan, Toni enjoys exploring new things, cooking, spending time with family and friends, and serving as a Youth Advisor for “Next Generation.”


Kim has over 30 years of experience in the legal field and has worked exclusively in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 1999. Kim is a senior case manager responsible for managing parental establishment cases and interacting with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorneys across the country. With three children of her own, Kim understands the importance of family and finds working in this area of law a rewarding experience.

Rich Vaughn

Attorney Rich Vaughn combined his personal passion as a father of twin boys born via assisted reproductive technology (ART) with more than 20 years of experience in business and technology law to build International Fertility Law Group. Today IFLG is one of the most successful and best-known law firms in the world focused exclusively on fertility law, helping thousands of intended parents through empathetic listening, compassionate guidance, and unmatched legal expertise. As an advocate for reproductive freedom, Rich also contributes his knowledge and time to improving the understanding and practice of ART law, most recently as a founder of and speaker at the first Cambridge University International Surrogacy Symposium held in June 2019, as immediate past chair of the American Bar Association ART Committee, and as a popular presenter to law schools, faculty and advocacy organizations all over the world.

Elizabeth Tamayo

Elizabeth received her Bachelors of Science degree in Criminal Justice from California State University of Los Angeles. Shortly after graduating, she continued her education at the University of California, Los Angeles where she obtained her Paralegal certificate. Elizabeth is fluent in Spanish and has been in the legal field since 2009. She is excited to be a part of the IFLG Team helping families realize their dreams.

Sunny Chien

Sunny joined IFLG as a paralegal in 2017, where she manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s international clients. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Philosophy from California State University of Los Angeles, where she graduated cum laude. Sunny is bilingual in English and Mandarin and has extensive experience as a legal assistant and paralegal at Los Angeles-area law firms. She is excited to be part of the IFLG team. In her spare time, Sunny enjoys spending time with her family and their dog, going to the beach, cooking, and being outdoors.

Los Angeles

5757 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 645

Los Angeles, CA 90036

Phone:  +1 323 331 9343

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

New York

501 Fifth Avenue, Suite 1900

New York, NY 10017

Phone:  +1 844 400 2016

Email:  info@iflg.net

Website:  www.iflg.net

Molly O'Brien

Fertility law attorney Molly O’Brien began working in the field of assisted reproduction technology (ART) in 2005, at an egg donation agency and a surrogacy agency where she became familiar with all aspects of in-vitro fertilization, egg donation and the financial aspects of surrogacy. Since becoming an attorney in 2011, Molly has drafted and negotiated surrogacy, egg donation, sperm donation embryo donation agreements for hundreds of her clients all over the world.

Phoebe Sadler

Fertility law attorney Phoebe Sadler has a background in family law and has been practicing exclusively in the area of assisted reproduction technology (ART) law since 2018.

Rubina Aslanyan

Rubina has an extensive background in the legal field as a paralegal in Family Law and has worked in surrogacy and assisted reproduction law since 2012. Her area of focus is in managing and assisting clients with surrogacy, egg donation, and parental establishment cases for many of IFLG’s domestic and international clients. During her spare time, Rubina enjoys spending time with her family and dog Bella, traveling and cooking.

Alexander Espinoza
Legal Assistant

Alexander joined IFLG as a legal assistant in 2019, where he manages surrogacy, egg donation and parental establishment cases. Alex is bilingual in English and Spanish and has been in the legal field for 23 years. Alex is excited to join the IFLG team and pursuing his will to help others in the reproductive law process. In his spare time he loves spending time with his family and friends, being outdoors, road trips, loves music and dancing.

Cara Stecker
Senior Paralegal

After receiving her paralegal certificate in 2005, Cara began working in assisted reproductive law. During the fifteen years Cara has worked in this field, she has gained a wide range of experience and knowledge that she uses to help better assist clients and those involved in the assisted reproductive journey. Cara’s primary roles involve managing parental establishment matters and coordination with IFLG’s Of Counsel attorney network, drafting contracts and parental establishment court documents and providing support to other team members. Cara finds great joy in being a small part of a team of caring people who help others achieve their dream of having a family. In her spare time, Cara enjoys spending time with her husband and three children, watching her children play the sports they love, and she enjoys, running, cycling and exploring the outdoors in the sun.

Stephanie Kimble

Stephanie received her BS in History and Political Thought from Concordia University Irvine in 2015 and her Paralegal Certificate from University of San Diego later that same year. She has been working as a Paralegal since 2016 in Family and Reproductive Law. She is excited to be part of International Fertility Law Group working on managing Surrogacy, Egg donation and Parental Establishment Cases.

Trish Pittman
Assistant Financial Coordinator

With more than 20 years of experience in the field of accounting, Trish joined the IFLG team in 2019 as Assistant Financial Coordinator. Her client-facing focus at IFLG is to assist with all client trust accounting. Trish is the mother of two daughters and enjoys spending time teaching and learning new things from them. In her free time, she loves long walks in the park and reading suspense and mystery novels.

Katie Deaquino
Senior Paralegal

Katie is a Senior Paralegal with IFLG and has dedicated over sixteen years to the areas of surrogacy and reproductive law. She received her Paralegal Certificate from Coastline Community College and has worked with some of the top law firms in the assisted reproduction community. Katie is also a commissioned Notary Public. With IFLG, Katie manages Surrogacy, Egg Donation, and Parental Establishment cases and provides support to other IFLG team members. Katie truly enjoys helping others build their families through assisted reproduction and is thankful she has had the rewarding experience of assisting IFLG clients. Katie often spends her free time with her Husband, four young children and her bulldog “Bella”.

Elsa Jimenez
Legal Assistant

Elsa joined IFLG as a Legal Assistant in 2019, bringing more than 35 years of experience working in the legal profession (concentrating in tort and litigation matters). At IFLG she assists surrogates with their surrogacy and parental matters. The oldest of five siblings, born and raised in East Los Angeles to Mexican immigrant parents, Elsa loves “seeing the beauty of families forming” through assisted reproductive technology. She and her husband Carlos have four children and one grandson. Elsa enjoys jazz and ’80s music, being outdoors in nature, collecting teacups and tea pots, and spending time with her close-knit family.