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Arizona embryo bill raises 'personhood' concerns

12 March 2018
Appeared in BioNews 941

The Arizona House of Representatives is considering a bill that would mean a couple's cryopreserved embryos could still be used by one of the parties if they split.

Bill SB 1393, which has already passed the state senate, aims to settle disputes over frozen embryos when couples separate. If one partner wishes to use the embryos to establish a pregnancy they would be permitted to do so, despite the wishes of the other party. The unwilling partner would have no legal obligation toward the resulting child. 

Cathi Herrod, president of the Centre for Arizona Policy, told the Arizona Capitol Times that Republican-backed bill 'gives [people] the opportunity to have those frozen embryos, to still be the parent that they thought they would be when they produced the embryos'.

Critics of the bill such as Barbara Collura, president and chief executive of Resolve, the USA's national infertility association, have expressed concern. Collura said that by awarding the embryos to the parent who will give the 'best chance for the in vitro human embryos to develop to birth', the bill is drawing from child custody standards and thus trying to establish embryos as persons rather than property.

The legislation was developed in response to the case of Ruby Torres, who created embryos with her former partner in 2014 prior to undergoing treatment for breast cancer. The couple later divorced and Torres sued for possession of the frozen embryos as they were her only hope of having a biologically related child. A Maricopa County family court judge sided with her ex-husband, and ordered the embryos to be donated to another couple or a fertility bank. Torres is trying to have the ruling overturned, and this bill, if passed, would tip the law in her favour.

'Right now, couples in Arizona beginning medically assisted reproduction are counselled about what will happen to their sperm, eggs, and embryos during and after treatment, and they sign legally binding agreements stating the way they want their gametes and embryos to be used according to different circumstances that could arise,' said Sean Tipton, chief policy and advocacy officer for the American Society of Reproductive Medicine. 

'These agreements are binding on all parties – unless all parties agree to change them. SB 1393 would allow one party to change their mind and change the agreement – and force a judge to rule in that party's favour.'

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