February 22, 2024

Embryo custody battles on the rise

Right-to-life campaigners have found a new cause.

In recent years more and more couples quarrelling over embryos from the sunnier days of their relationship have appeared in court. The latest story to hit the US press was that of Jalesia McQueen and Justin Gadberry, a divorced Missouri couple fighting for custody of 10-year-old embryos.

Two embryos were “left over” after McQueen and Gadberry used IVF to have their twin boys, now 8. A Missouri County Court ruled that the couple ‘jointly’ owns the remaining embryos, but McQueen and Gadberry are at loggerheads. She wants to have more children; he wants have the embryos destroyed.

Late last month McQueen appealed the ruling to the Missouri Court of Appeals, saying that the embryos are living beings and should not be destroyed. “When you go through this process and see these embryos created, they’re your babies,” McQueen said Wednesday at news conference at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis, the historic building where 19th century slave Dred Scott fought to gain his freedom.

McQueen’s very public appeal is indicative of a broader trend in embryo disputes: affected parties have increasingly been appealing to the legal status of embryos as persons to prevent their destruction.

A pro-life organisation, Missouri Right to Life (MRL), has become heavily involved in McQueen’s appeal, and even fronted the press with her. “Natural law tells us the African-American male is not human property,” said Gerard Nieters, MRL legislative director. “And it tells us that frozen embryos are not human property.”

No US jurisdiction treats embryos as persons or entities entitled to constitutional protection. 

Yet there are a number of briefs being prepared for courts regarding personhood of embryos. The Chicago-based Thomas More Society, which is providing legal assistance to McQueen, has filed a “personhood” request in Los Angeles in a dispute between “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara and ex-boyfriend Nicholas Loeb, who wants custody of the frozen embryos they created before breaking up. The Society says that there is legislation in a number of US jurisdictions stating that life begins with conception. 

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