San Francisco judge rules couple's frozen embryos be discarded

Reuters News
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Posted: Nov 18, 2015 7:40 PM

By Curtis Skinner

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A San Francisco judge ruled on Wednesday that a woman was not entitled to frozen embryos conceived with her now ex-husband in a widely-watched case over reproductive rights in the nation's most populous state.

Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo made the ruling in the case between Mimi Lee and Stephen Findley, upholding a consent agreement the couple had signed which required the embryos be "thawed and discarded" in the event of a divorce.

"It is a disturbing consequence of modern biological technology that the fate of the nascent human life, which the Embryos in this case represent, must be determined in a court by reference to cold legal principles," Massullo said in her 83-page decision.

She added however that "there must be rules to govern the disposition" of frozen embryos.

Attorneys for Lee said in a statement that she was "disappointed with the Court's tentative ruling and is evaluating her legal options."

Lawyers for Findley could not be immediately reached for comment on Wednesday.

Just days before the pair got married in August 2010, Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer, according to court records. The couple decided to create several embryos and have them cryogenically frozen to ensure they could still have children.

The five embryos were created at the University of California, San Francisco's (UCSF) Center for Reproductive Health and the pair signed a consent form that said they would be discarded in the event of a divorce, the ruling said.

Findley filed for divorce from Lee in December 2013 and the issue of what to do with the embryos became a flashpoint.

Lee argued during a five-day trial this summer that the embryos should be granted to her, saying she was now infertile and would have no other opportunities to bear children.

She said the consent form was invalid, and urged the court to consider her constitutional rights to procreate, according to the ruling.

Findley, meanwhile, said he had constitutional rights not to procreate with Lee, and said that she would attempt to use the resulting offspring to take advantage of him financially.

The ruling, which directs UCSF to discard the embryos, would be stayed pending any appeals.

(Reporting by Curtis Skinner and Dan Levine in San Francisco; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Diane Craft)