December 6, 2022

Frozen Oregon embryos are “property”

No one should be forced to become a parent.

Who gets the frozen embryos created by divorcing spouses? A court in Oregon recently decided that a prior agreement to thaw them out trumps an ex-husband’s desire to donate them to another woman. While this is happening more and more, the noteworthy feature of this case is the growing tendency of courts to treat embryos as property.

The Oregon Court of Appeal declared that the contractual "right to possess or dispose of the frozen embryos is personal property" – although it did not assert directly that the embryos themselves are property. And it added that "there is some inherent awkwardness in describing these contractual rights" as personal property.

The case involved a couple which resorted to IVF after failing to have a child naturally. Orthodontist Darrell Angle and paediatrician Laura Dahl signed an agreement which stated that she should have "sole and exclusive" rights to decide what would be done with the embryos. However, Angle attempted to challenge this after the divorce. And he asserted that "embryos are life," and "there’s no pain greater than having participated in the demise of your own child." But Dr Dahl did not want another woman to bear a child that was genetically hers.

In the end, the court sided with Dr Dahl because, as in eight other states, it treated the embryos as property whose disposal could be governed by a written contract. "The outcome, in 100 percent of the cases, is we’re not going to force anyone to be a parent," explained her lawyer. The embryos will now be discarded or donated for research, unless there is an appeal. ~ Oregonian, Oct 8