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Divorced Couple Could Set Precedent in Embryo Case

07-18-2015
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Thousands of babies currently sit in frozen storage tanks in labs and clinics across America.

In most cases they're reserved for fertility treatments. But for one California couple, the circumstances surrounding their frozen embryos are more complicated.

In 2010, Mimi Lee found out she had cancer. She and her then husband, Stephen Findley, decided to freeze five embryos because the cancer treatment would make her infertile.

A couple can choose to freeze their embryo, which are stored in cyrotanks for a number of years.

Five years after first freezing their embryos, however, Lee and Findley, who divorced in April, are now in court fighting over what should be done with them. He wants those embryo's destroyed and she wants to keep them.

"She's emotional. This is her last chance to have a biological child," Peter Skinner, Lee's attorney, said.

Findley said Lee is bound by forms signed at the fertility clinic calling for the embryos to be destroyed in the event of a divorce. He argues that he doesn't want to have a child outside of marriage.

Lee's attorney says that she has a constitutional right to procreate and that the forms were not a binding contract.

"They sat down at a USCF conference room for 10 minutes, not looking at each other, quickly went through the forms, checked off the boxes. They were newlywed," Skinner explained. "They weren't even thinking about a divorce."

The ruling in this case could set a national precedent. In previous cases the party opposed to keeping the embryos has won, but there have been exceptions for women like Lee who have had cancer and are now infertile.

If Lee loses her battle in court, there is another option for the couple.

 Nightlight Christian Adoption Agency, and organizations like it, have programs that allow couples to adopt frozen embryos that would otherwise be destroyed.
 
"These embryos are human beings who are in frozen storage, waiting for the opportunity for life," Daniel Nehrbass, executive director of Nighlight explains.

"We believe that life begins at conception, which means as soon as the embryo is created," he said. For these embryos, they've been placed in frozen storage and that process of developing, being born, growing into adulthood has been halted and interrupted."

A ruling from the San Francisco County superior court judge is expected over the next several weeks. 

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