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Pre-embryo court fight raises fathers’ rights, custody issues

Missouri residents interested in fathers’ rights issues may find a current Illinois court battle interesting. The case involves a “custody” dispute over frozen pre-embryos that were created by a woman and her then-boyfriend before she began cancer treatments that would likely leave her infertile.

According to court filings, the man orally agreed to the arrangement and also signed an informed consent form before a Northwestern University lab used his sperm to fertilize his girlfriend’s harvested eggs in 2010. The couple, who had known each other for 10 years prior to becoming romantically involved, broke up shortly after the procedure was completed. However, the man continued to affirm that the woman had his consent to use the frozen pre-embryos to become pregnant in the future.

The man claims he changed his mind when the existence of the pre-embryos became a point of contention between him and a new girlfriend. He said he no longer wished to be forced into fatherhood and filed an injunction to stop the pre-embryos from being used on Aug. 22, 2011, beginning a four-year court battle with his former girlfriend. Lawyers for the two sides have argued over whether a verbal agreement between the former couple and the signed consent form constitute a binding legal contract. Also in dispute is whether the man’s desire not to become a father outweighs the woman’s right to pursue her only chance of having biological children. A judge ruled in the woman’s favor in May 2014, but the case may make its way to the Illinois Supreme Court.

Scientific advancements have created wonderful new opportunities for infertile individuals and couples, but they have also created a host of new and complex legal questions. Any Missouri resident considering donating sperm or eggs for future use may wish to speak to a lawyer about any potential parental rights, visitation or custody issues.