Woman Loses Child Custody, Retains Rights to Embryos

Can a parent argue for custody of an unborn, un-implanted embryo? In a case that treads the line between property division and child custody, a Maryland woman has been awarded custody of nine frozen embryos she created during her marriage to her now ex-husband. The case demonstrates the evolution of child custody and divorce law throughout recent years.

The custody case also included the couple’s 3-year-old daughter, who had been conceived with one of the embryos in question. The pair split up in May 2012, but they have argued over the custody proceedings for several months.

The ruling, the first of its kind in Maryland, allowed the woman to retain custody of the frozen embryos. Legal representatives reported that the embryo’s father had wanted to have them destroyed. The judge in the case upheld a legal document that had been signed at the fertility center at the time of the fertilization; that document permitted the woman to maintain custody of the embryos in the event of a split.

Attorneys for the father argue that the ruling is taking away their client’s rights to determine whether he would like to be a father again. The man is dismayed about the decision even though he was awarded sole custody of the couple’s daughter, largely because the mother was deemed unfit during courtroom proceedings. The man said he worries about the welfare of his future children because his ex-wife wants to conceive again.

Still, an ethical argument against the ruling persists, with experts calling the decision a matter of public policy instead of a simple personal choice. If women can opt for abortions, why should a man have to consent to fathering more children than he wants? Attorneys argue that the same rule should apply to both genders. The man’s attorneys have filed a stay to prevent the woman from implanting another embryo, though that request has not yet been confirmed.

Source: Greenbelt Patch, “Maryland woman wins custody of frozen embryos,” Bailey Henneberg, Jan. 7, 2013.