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No legal father for IVF baby, rules Georgia Supreme Court

16 October 2017
Appeared in BioNews 923

A ruling by the Supreme Court in Georgia, USA, has stated a child born following IVF has no legal father, potentially setting a precedent for other similar cases in the future.

The ruling comes after a three-year legal case between Dr Jocelyn Vanterpool and David Patton, which started in January 2014 when Patton filed for a divorce.

Despite the divorce, both parties agreed to enter into an agreement to allow Dr Vanterpool to undergo another round of IVF treatment following the couple's two previous attempts and three miscarriages. While Dr Vanterpool has said she did not want to receive child support from Patton, she claims that it was agreed that Patton would be listed as the father, in order for the children to receive health insurance.

In November 2014, Dr Vanterpool travelled to the Czech Republic to undergo IVF using a donor egg and donor sperm.

Four days later, the final judgment on the divorce was entered in the courts but it did not mention children as, at the time, it was not known that Dr Vanterpool was pregnant. Patton has subsequently refused to assist Dr Vanterpool and her daughter, who was born in June 2015 alongside a twin brother who died a few months later.

Dr Vanterpool therefore requested that the Superior Court set aside the divorce decree in an effort to include her daughter in the agreement. However, the motion was denied, leading her to file a paternity action against Patton, stating that he created an 'irrebuttable presumption of paternity' by signing the consent papers in front of a notary public.

As a result of her filed paternity action, the Superior Court ruled that Patton was legally the father. However, Patton appealed the finding, taking the case to the Supreme Court - the state's highest court.

Patton won leave to appeal the decision and  in October 2017 the Supreme Court of Georgia stated Patton is not in fact the legal father, citing a law from 1964 which predates the invention of IVF.

In her written opinion, Justice Carol Hunstein wrote: '[the 1964 law] creates an 'irrebuttable presumption' of legitimacy with respect to "[all] children born within wedlock or within the usual period of gestation thereafter who [were] conceived by means of artificial insemination."...This appeal presents the question of whether that irrebuttable presumption applies to children so conceived by means of IVF. We conclude that it does not and reverse the judgment of the Superior Court.'

Dr Vanterpool is now calling for the law to be updated so that all forms of artificial conception, including IVF, are included, stating: 'Artificial insemination is just a simpler version of reproductive technology. It has evolved tremendously. So that advancement should be included - it's not something we should ignore.'

SOURCES & REFERENCES
Georgia Supreme Court Makes Child Fatherless
JD Journal |  18 October 2017
Georgia Supreme Court Rules In Vitro Baby Has No Legal Father
Law.com |  16 October 2017
Georgia Supreme Court rules IVF babies have no legal father
11 Alive |  18 October 2017
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