Court Rules Frozen Embryos Are Marital Property, Can Be Destroyed In Divorce Case

Reversing a lower court decision on a divorce case, the Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that previously frozen embryos are considered marital property and can be destroyed, according to the Hartford Courant.

The court decided that a contract made between the couple, Jessica Bilbao and Timothy R. Goodwin, and the University of Connecticut School of Medicine's Center for Advanced Reproductive Services to have their frozen embryos destroyed in the event of a divorce was enforceable.

Bilbao and Goodwin did have one child through embryo implantation.

In the midst of the couple's divorce in 2016, Goodwin claimed the embryos should be allowed to remain viable in case the couple got back together and decided to have a child. Failing that, Goodwin said he wanted the embryos donated to another couple.

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Ruling that the agreement was invalid and unenforceable, the lower court awarded the embryos to Bilbao. That decision was appealed by Goodwin, who said he sought to "preserve the pre-embryos because they are human beings."

"One party wants the embryo destroyed and the other doesn't, and I'm just suggesting that if we're going to be using any kind of legal balancing test, that we err on the side of life and not on the side of death," said Goodwin's attorney Joseph P. Secola during the appeal hearing.

Bilbao's attorney, Scott Garosshen, told the Supreme Court that Bilbao's rights would be violated if Goodwin were awarded the embryos.

"The right to avoid procreation is just as important of a constitutional right," Garosshen said, reported WNPR.

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in vitro fertililzation
Some anti-abortion activists are protesting the destruction of human embryos created by in vitro fertilization. Getty

The court ruled only on the agreement and not whether the frozen embryos, referred to as "pre-embryos" in the ruling, were actually human beings. What to do in a similar situation without such an agreement was also not ruled upon.

"We do not decide what a court must do in the absence of an enforceable agreement," said the court. "For example, we leave for another day whether, in the absence of an enforceable agreement, balancing or contemporaneous mutual consent is the appropriate approach, and what the details of such an approach would be."

Embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) and stored for later implantation have received attention through the form of anti-abortion protests. Some activists feel that discarding an embryo or donating it for research is the same thing as abortion, believing that life begins at conception.

"Even within the anti-choice community, the sanctification of the embryo is far from the mainstream view," said Sean Tipton, spokesman for the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in The Chicago Tribune. "I find it very difficult to follow the logic of groups that purport to be for life objecting to medical facilities whose mission is to help families have babies."

What happens to frozen embryos after a couple splits up continues to be a matter brought before the courts.

According to toofab.com, Modern Family star Sofia Vergara and her ex-fiancé, Nicholas Loeb employed the services of the ART Reproductive Center in Beverly Hills, California to create two viable embryos for IVF. Both parties signed an agreement that said one person could not use the embryos without the written consent of the other.

Loeb attempted to obtain the embryos after he and Vergara broke up. Vergara claimed that would constitute a violation of the agreement. Loeb dismissed the motion, but other aspects of the case are still in courts.

Court Rules Frozen Embryos Are Marital Property, Can Be Destroyed In Divorce Case | U.S.