Rich Vaughn Blog: Uncertain Legality of Cryopreservation Agreements Creates Conflict

Uncertain Status of Cryopreservation Agreements Creates Legal Conflict

With the growing use of cryopreservation, a method of freezing for future use eggs, sperm or embryos, we’re also seeing a growing amount of litigation resulting from disagreements as to their disposition. Sometimes a couple freezes eggs or sperm for medical reasons, such as cancer treatment, or merely in order to delay starting a family until a more opportune time. If the couple later separates, the partners may disagree about whether the eggs, sperm or embryo should be destroyed or preserved, how and when they can be used, and who has the right to make that decision.

Although such cases are still relatively uncommon (most people resolve these matters privately), as the technology improves and becomes more accessible to more people, it’s reasonable to assume such disagreements will occur more often. And as the law stands now, it’s anyone’s bet how these cases will wash out: in this area of law, it’s still the wild, Wild West.

Many couples sign a consent agreement or medical consent form, usually provided by their fertility agency, when they undergo egg or sperm harvesting or in vitro fertilization. Often, the clinic documents don’t cover what happens in the case of separation or divorce. Few intended parents go to a fertility thinking about what will happen if they get a divorce—most don’t want to think about it. However, it is incumbent upon the fertility services providers to make sure all eventualities are covered in these documents, and these intending parents must also be advised to carefully consider all eventualities before cryopreserving their genetic material.

But as things stand today, even the existence of a medical consent form addressing embryo disposition doesn’t rule out the prospect of conflict and litigation. Sometimes the court honors these consent forms, but not always.

For example, if a divorced woman wanted to use embryos created by her and her husband during their marriage, but the husband wanted the embryos destroyed, the court would be likely to honor the husband’s wishes rather than force him to become a father against his wishes. In general the judicial bias has been to uphold the right of an individual not to be forced to reproduce. But the outcome is not cut and dried. It might be the case the embryos were created prior to the wife undergoing radiation treatment for cancer. Following the treatment, if she is no longer fertile, she might be able to make the case that the embryos represent her only chance to become a mother—and some courts might rule in her favor.

The issues raised in these cases are not simple—they are as elemental and as complex as the question of when life begins. Some conservative and religion-based organizations are pushing courts to treat embryos as human beings with all the attendant human rights. In that case, disposition cases would be decided based on the best interests of the “child,” or embryo. A determination that an embryo is a human being would inevitably have implications for the legality of abortion and other reproductive rights, as well as for the use of unclaimed embryos for medical research and the discarding of remaining embryos an intended parent no longer wishes to use.

Also at issue are parental rights and obligations. Even in cases when there is clear agreement between parties about parentage, such as in the “Kansas sperm donor case” we have written about (also here and here), governments may weigh in with their own vested interests. In that case, even though the sperm donor and the lesbian intended parents were all in agreement that the sperm donor had no parental rights or obligations, the state of Kansas saw it differently and, in the absence of a licensed fertility provider, went after the sperm donor for child support. As my colleague Steven Snyder points out in an article for the American Bar Association Journal (“Deep Freeze: Contentious battles between couples over frozen embryos raise legal and ethical dilemmas,” June 1, 2016, by Anna Stolley Persky), intended parents might be more willing to agree to future use of embryos in the event of separation or divorce if they were assured they would not be legally obligated for the support of the child.

As Snyder explains, there are cases where “a couple would otherwise agree to allow one party to use the embryo, so long as the other party is not considered a parent.”

But, he adds, “In virtually every state, such agreements are not recommended since they are not necessarily enforceable.”

Arguably the existing uncertainty in the law leads to unnecessary, costly litigation and heartache all around. As I posed the question recently in the ABA Journal “Deep Freeze” article, “Should the medical consent forms signed by the parties be viewed as a contract to be honored? Or should they be viewed as merely advanced directives, which can be revised or revoked at any time. If we don’t follow the signed agreements, are we creating a system with very little predictability?”

A first step toward ensuring predictability in legal protection for intended parents would be either passing legislation validating the legality of medical consent forms addressing embryo disposition or requiring something more formal such as an embryo disposition agreement (much like a pre-nup) between the intending parents. Until then, intended parents are strongly advised to think carefully about and seek legal advice on these issues when forming and storing embryos.

 

Rich Vaughn
Richard Vaughn
rich@iflg.net

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
PEIYA WANG(王培娅)
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 received her bachelor’s degree from Beijing Technologies and Business University, where she majored in Marketing. She moved to the United States in 2012 to attend Northeast 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 and received her paralegal certification from UCLA Extension. 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 SOSA
Paralegal

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, 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. In addition to spending time with husband Randy and dog Marty, Luis enjoys being outdoors and appreciating the arts.

Toni Hughes
TONI HUGES
Paralegal

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.”

Miesha Cowart
MIESHA COWART
Financial Coordinator

Miesha Cowart joined IFLG as a financial specialist in 2014 following a successful career in development and business finance. Miesha previously worked for 10 years in the construction industry as a controller and for 13 years as Development Coordinator for the non-profit U.S. Fund for UNICEF. In her free time, Miesha works with “Next Generation” at her church. “They are my heartbeats!” she says of the youth in her community.

Kim
KIM DEVEREAUX
Paralegal

Kim has over 25 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 of surrogacy and egg donation cases, and is also 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
RICHARD B. VAUGHN
Founder

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 TAMAYO
Paralegal

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 CHIEN
Paralegal

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.

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
OFFICES
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
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

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
MOLLY O'BRIEN
Partner

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.