Ethical & Legal Considerations

“The quality of decision is like the well-timed swoop of a falcon which enables it to strike and destroy its victim.” ― Sun Tzu


There are many things that you don’t know that you don’t know. Here are some questions, ethical, and legal considerations for you to consider when freezing your eggs or making embryos. This will help start the conversation, digest possible outcomes, and think about where you stand on these sensitive topics before they happen. You should take some time to consider all the legal angles and standpoints. Understanding these hypothetical situations that could occur to your eggs, sperm, or embryos before you create them will help avoid future problems. Being prepared and stating your wishes both in legal writing and verbally to multiple people in your life is the best way to protect yourself and for your wishes to be honored.


One of the first questions to consider when you freeze your eggs is if something were to happen to you, like getting into a car accident, becoming unconscious, or in extreme situations even death … what do you want to happen to your frozen eggs? How do you feel about your eggs to be donated to science? Would you be willing to donate and give your eggs to a needy individual or couple if you do not use them? Do you want to leave them for a family member? Do you want to name a person to be in charge of them legally and make the decision of what happens to your genetics if you are incapacitated? Or do you want them destroyed?


When you fill out the paper work at the fertility clinic, they will ask you to choose one of these options or sign basic paper work as a medical directive for the clinic to know what to do in these situations. Keep in mind you can always choose one of the most comfortable choices for you at this time and change your mind later if you wish. However be aware that if there are no legal documents drawn up, other things like a court’s order could change any clinic paper work. With that being said, make sure you remember that after this is all over you may forget to change that choice down the road and the option you last stated will be legally binding if something were to happen to you. Personally I choose donate to science. I didn’t want to waste the hard work of collecting my eggs to just go down the drain if I should die, but I wasn’t super comfortable knowing I would have a possible child in the world that I didn’t know either.


Personally, I didn’t have any one person that I wanted to trust or allow to be in charge of these eggs. I consider my frozen eggs similar to property and my genetic prized possession. If something were to happen to me, I decided donating my frozen eggs to science was the best and easiest choice for me.  I feel that there still is so much to learn about egg freezing and IVF yet that if science could profit off of my genetics and help others that seemed like the right thing to do since I would not be here to need them.


The next legal and ethical question you may have to answer is if you want to make any of your retrieved eggs into embryos. Maybe you have a partner, spouse, friend, or a donor sperm you would like to use to help create an embryo. While embryos do freeze and thaw better then eggs alone there are many things to consider when choosing this option. Additional costs will be added to your fertility bill for the ICSI process of injecting the sperm into your egg to create the embryo. But even more importantly I like to caution women to consider this option carefully because it a choice you cannot change after it is completed.


Once an egg is fertilized you have essentially chosen your other half (or father) of your future baby. Plus there may be some legal ties if you can conceive or implant those embryos in the future. If you do not have sole custody of those embryos the other party may have rights to those created embryos. Potentially the other party (male / father) could object or change his mind about the uses of those embryos. Even with legal paper work in place, you could be involved in a legal dispute over the future outcome of those embryos.


Sperm donor produced embryos may be the only true untied legal way to avoid such issues. There have been several legal cases including some famous ones in the courts today about this topic. These court decisions are expensive, hard, lengthy, and difficult processes. The outcome of these trials may not be in your favor or turn out how you wish for the courts to decide. Many factors come into play with these types of trials. Even in the cases of cancer, women over reproductive ages, infertility, and other legal considerations the verdict may not side with you and there are no guaranteed outcomes.


One famous celebrity case comes to mind is the situation with actress Sofia Vergara and ex-fiance Nick Loeb. They had frozen both eggs and embryos. After the couple split up, Nick wanted to take the embryos for himself and have a child. Obviously Sofia disagreed and wanted to destroy those embryos they created together, especially since she had already moved on and married husband Joe Manganiello. Currently, they are still locked in a bitter legal battle over the outcome for the frozen embryos they made together.


There are a few high profile cases that have currently hit the mainstream media, where surviving cancer patients fight former spouses with intense court battles over these decisions of what to do with their frozen embryos. One case in California where cancer survivor and doctor turned concert pianist Mimi Lee is fighting ex-husband Stephen Findley for the custody of created embryos. The courts decided that Lee must adhere to an agreement she made with her ex-husband to destroy five frozen embryos if the couple divorced as reported by USA Today.


The second similar case in Illinois of Chicago cancer survivor, Dr. Karla Dunston who was awarded custody of three frozen embryos — her last chance to have a biological child — despite her ex-boyfriend Jacob Szafranski, a firefighter, plea against what he considers forced procreation. This case and others could have an huge impacts on similar custody fertility battles and keep other legal issues hanging into balance, legal experts said.


The number of babies born through assisted reproductive technology has skyrocketed to more than 61,000 in 2010 from mere 260 babies in 1985, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine. Meanwhile only a few court cases have set legal precedent for what happens with frozen embryos. Frozen embryos raise legal and ethical dilemmas which are highlighted in several examples. Take all of these legal aspects into consideration before choosing which path to go down. I suggest having very clear and legally documented plans for the embryos with all parties signed in agreeing before creating them.


Personally, I choose to just keep my eggs frozen alone instead of creating embryos. I wasn’t super excited about choosing a sperm donor yet and didn’t have any person in mind I would want as the father of my child, so this was an easiest choice for me. Plus given my age of 33, the frozen eggs still had potentially good egg quality to survive and create a possible live birth. It was the right decision for me and helped complete my goals in the hopes of some day finding a partner to have kids with together (either naturally or via IVF).


If you are a UK citizen, one thing you need to know about is the current and outdated egg freezing laws that exist. The current law in the UK enables women to pay to freeze her eggs up to ten years. Unless there is a medical condition for either reproductive partner, the frozen eggs are likely to be destroyed after those 10 years have expired. A petition to change this outdated law for UK residents has been started. Only UK citizens can sign this petition. If you live or know someone in the UK, please pass along the petition to help spread the word about these necessary changes.


So tell me what you think, we would love to hear from you. How do you feel about these court-mandated decisions in regards to keeping or discarding embryos? How would you feel if you were the other party? Will you make embryos or just freeze eggs? What factors influence this choice (age, desire for children, timing, partner, etc)? I would love to know what you think about all things ethical and legal. Look forward to hearing from you.