Page URL:

Freezer-failure embryos were people, claim parents

6 August 2018
Appeared in BioNews 961

An Ohio couple are continuing their legal fight to have their lost embryos declared as having the same legal status as people.

Wendy and Rick Penniman's three embryos were among 4000 left unviable when the temperature in a storage tank rose to unacceptable levels. Some 950 families were affected by the freezer malfunction at the University Hospital Ahuja Medical Centre, Ohio, in March 2018 (see BioNews 941). 

'The Pennimans feel strongly about this,' said their lawyer Bruce Taubman. 'A lot of the plaintiffs considered the eggs and embryos to be part of their families.'

The Pennimans want a court declaration that 'the life of a person begins at the moment of conception,' so 'the legal status of an embryo is that of a person'. They are appealing the decision of Judge Stuart Friedman of the Cuyahoga County Common Pleas Court, who dismissed their first claim in May 2018. Friedman reasoned that an embryo did not warrant the same legal status as a child, saying:

'The parents may believe that the embryos they created are already persons, but that is a matter of faith or of their personal beliefs, not of science and not of law… They are of course entitled to mourn the loss of this potential, and even to feel the anguish of a parent who has lost a child, however, the court can deal only with rights and obligations that the law recognizes, not with emotions, feelings or beliefs of individuals.'

All the families who lost embryos or eggs have been offered compensation, but the Pennimans argue that their embryos were treated as property, when they should have been treated as patients of the hospital. Lawyers acting for the hospital argued that frozen embryos are property under Ohio law and pointed out that a consent form signed by the Pennimans describes the embryos as 'the sole property' of Wendy and Rick Penniman.

Taubman admits that the families will be entitled to far more compensation if the embryos were declared people. In a wrongful death claim, he said, 'the damages are much more severe... There is no cap on damages'.

'What we've done here is allowed the court of appeals to find a way to confirm what most Americans want the law to be: that life begins at conception,' Taubman told 'I think that's the prevailing opinion in this country.'

Couple argues that lost frozen embryo was a person, lawsuit states
ABC News |  3 August 2018
Frozen embryo was a person, UH fertility appeal claims |  2 August 2018
14 June 2021 - by Rachel Siden 
The first trial over a California fertility clinic's cryogenic tank failure concluded by awarding $15 million to five plaintiffs...
2 December 2019 - by Lone Hørlyck 
New Jersey looks set to become the first US state to require licensing and inspection of facilities that store embryos being used for fertility treatment...
30 September 2019 - by Dr Yvonne Collins 
A children's hospital in the USA has reported a malfunction of a freezer used to store the stem cells of cancer patients...
7 May 2019 - by Suzi Denton 
An appeal court in Cleveland, Ohio, has ruled that a couple's embryos lost in a freezer-failure incident last year were not 'living persons', and should not therefore have been treated as patients rather than property...
28 January 2019 - by Georgia Everett 
Eight new lawsuits have been filed this week following the loss of 4000 eggs and embryos when a storage tank in a fertility clinic malfunctioned...
19 March 2018 - by Jen Willows 
A second US fertility clinic has reported a malfunction of a tank used to store frozen eggs and embryos...
12 March 2018 - by Lone Hørlyck 
A temperature fluctuation in a storage bank has compromised at least 2100 frozen eggs and embryos in a fertility clinic in Cleveland Ohio...
to add a Comment.

By posting a comment you agree to abide by the BioNews terms and conditions

Syndicate this story - click here to enquire about using this story.