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  1. #1
    Outta Space Cowboy Scotty's Avatar
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    Default Judge rules couple may sue for wrongful death over discarded frozen embryo

    This should open up a nice juicy can of worms.

    Judge rules couple may sue for wrongful death over discarded frozen embryo

    CHICAGO (AP) — A couple whose frozen embryo was accidentally destroyed at a fertility clinic has the right in Illinois to file a wrongful-death lawsuit, a judge has ruled in a case that some legal experts say could have implications in the debate over embryonic stem cell research.
    In an opinion issued Friday, Cook County Judge Jeffrey Lawrence said ‘‘a pre-embryo is a ’human being’ ... whether or not it is implanted in its mother’s womb.’’
    He said the couple is as entitled to seek compensation as any parents whose child has been killed.
    The suit was filed by Alison Miller and Todd Parrish, who stored nine embryos in January 2000 at the Center for Human Reproduction in Chicago. Their doctor said one embryo looked particularly promising, but the Chicago couple were told six months later the embryos had been accidentally discarded.
    In his ruling, Lawrence relied on the state’s Wrongful Death Act, which allows lawsuits to be filed if unborn fetuses are killed in an accident or assault. ‘‘The state of gestation or development of a human being’’ does not preclude taking legal action, the act says.
    Lawrence also cited an Illinois state law that says an ‘‘unborn child is a human being from the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person.’’
    ‘‘There is no doubt in the mind of the Illinois Legislature when life begins,’’ Lawrence wrote.
    Another judge had thrown out the couple’s wrongful-death claims, but Lawrence reversed that decision, partly because that judge did not explain his decision at the time.
    An attorney for the fertility clinic said an appeal would likely be filed.
    The decision could curb reproductive research, said Colleen Connell, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Chicago.
    Connell expects the ruling will be overturned on appeal.
    ‘‘It may be groundbreaking, but it’s the wrong decision,’’ Connell said. ‘‘No appellate court has ever declared a fertilized egg a human being in a wrongful-death suit.’’
    Stem cells can potentially grow into any type of human tissue. Many scientists believe they could someday be used to repair spinal cord injuries and treat some diseases. Anti-abortion groups oppose such research because it involves destroying embryos, and the Bush administration has severely restricted federal stem cell funding.
    Abortion opponents praised Lawrence’s ruling. ‘‘Life begins at fertilization, not implantation,’’ Pro-Life Action League director Joe Scheidler said.
    While the ruling likely is too narrow to affect abortion law, it increases legal risks for fertility clinics, said John Mayoue, a family attorney in Atlanta and specialist on in-vitro law.
    Mayoue said court rulings on the treatment of embryos have been contradictory.
    ‘‘We are considering embryos to be property for certain purposes and life for others, and that’s the incongruity,’’ he said.

  2. #2
    The Joker BradS's Avatar
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    He said the couple is as entitled to seek compensation as any parents whose child has been killed.
    That is a ridiculous statement.

  3. #3
    Outta Space Cowboy Scotty's Avatar
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    Here's an update on the case if anyone's interested ...

    Ruling that embryo is a person could have chilling effect on everything from in vitro fertilization to abortion, observers say

    CHICAGO (AP) — All Alison Miller and Todd Parrish wanted was to become parents. But when a fertility clinic didn’t preserve a healthy embryo they had hoped would one day become their child, they sued for wrongful death.
    A judge refused to dismiss their case, ruling in effect that a test-tube embryo is a human being and that the suit can go forward.
    Though most legal experts believe the ruling will be overturned, some in the fertility business worry it could have a chilling effect, threatening everything from in vitro fertilization to abortion rights and embryonic stem cell research.
    ‘‘If the decision stands, it could essentially end in vitro fertilization,’’ said Dr. Robert Schenken, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Few doctors would risk offering the procedure if any accident that harmed the embryo could result in a wrongful death lawsuit, said Schenken, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Texas in San Antonio.
    He said the society, a professional group for fertility doctors, is considering filing a court brief opposing the ruling by Cook County Judge Jeffrey Lawrence.
    The lawyer for the clinic, James Kopriva, declined to say if an appeal is planned, but added, ‘‘We are weighing our options. We disagree with the court’s decision and do not believe Illinois law provides for the remedy provided by the court.’’
    In a letters to the couple in June 2000, Dr. Norbert Gleicher, director of the Center for Human Reproduction, said an employee had failed to put an embryo in frozen storage and he apologized for ‘‘this oversight.’’
    If the ruling for the couple holds, it would have no legal standing outside Illinois. However, it could provide impetus for groups elsewhere to push an agenda opposing both abortion rights and stem cell research, said Northwestern University law professor Victor Rosenblum, an abortion foe who has worked with anti-abortion activists.
    ‘‘I certainly admire the initiative of the Cook County judge in taking this step,’’ but it likely will not survive any appeals attempts, Rosenblum said.
    The judge refers in his ruling to an Illinois statute that implies that wrongful death lawsuits can be filed on behalf of the unborn regardless of age. In Lawrence’s interpretation, that includes a test-tube embryo before pregnancy — the microscopic bunch of cells that form after an egg is fertilized in the laboratory but before being implanted into the womb.
    There are nearly half a million such embryos frozen at fertility clinics nationwide. They are typically extras produced through in vitro fertilization, and most clinics keep them indefinitely until couples decide to use them or authorize their disposal, said University of Minnesota ethicist Jeffrey Kahn.
    Kahn said if the decision stands, ‘‘it will have implications not only for embryonic stem cell research, but for all of reproductive medicine, potentially.’’
    Lori Andrews a reproductive rights lawyer in Chicago, said the Chicago case is reminiscent of disputes in other states in which custody of embryos was at issue — including a Tennessee divorce case in which a lower-court ruling that an embryo was a child was reversed on appeal.
    Dr. Ralph Kazer, head of the IVF program at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said fertility specialists are watching the case with interest, but also said he doubts it will stand.
    He said the case serves to ‘‘simply remind me and to remind my team that we have to continue to be very fastidious about how we handle our embryos.’’
    Miller and Parrish, the Chicago couple, had no intent beyond seeking justice for the clinic’s error, said their attorney James Costello. A phone listing for them in Chicago was disconnected and Costello said they did not want to discuss their case with the news media.
    ‘‘This was a couple who wanted to become parents, this isn’t Roe vs. Wade,’’ Costello said, referring to the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion.
    ‘‘What they’re looking for is a day in court,’’ Costello said.

 

 

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