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Are Frozen Embryos People, Property Or Something Else?
Are Frozen Embryos People, Property Or Something Else?  | frozen embryo, probate, embryo transfer, Bridget Fuselier,

8-cell embryo for transfer 3 days after fertilization

There more than a half million frozen human embryos in this country.

Are they people, property or something else?

Such is the topic dealt with by Bridget Fuselier, associate professor of law at Baylor Law School.

The first ever pregnancy from a frozen human embryo was in 1983.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of people began as frozen embryos stored in liquid nitrogen. Imagine being born 20 years after conception.  There are reports that doctors at the Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine in Virginia implanted a 20-year old frozen embryo and brought it to term last May. The embryo was from a couple that used in vitro fertilization (IVF) with 1990 pre-email, pre-internet technology. 

The couple, who had a successful implantation with one embryo twent years ago, gave the other four for ‘adoption.'

Subsequently, in 2010 a woman gave birth to a healthy boy weighing 6lb 15oz. That means, at least theoretically, that boy has a 20-year-old sibling somewhere.

That story illustrates that many embryos set aside in cold storage have been there for years. Then one donor dies, or both die.  Suddenly, frozen human embryos become a major probate issue, not to mention family law, civil rights or torts issues. 

That’s the situation that Fuselier examines in a recent article, “Pre-embryos in Probate: Property, Person or Something Else?”.  She discussed the probate issues involved in cryogenically preserved embryos following the death of one or both of the donors.

To her credit, Fuselier’s article received the inaugural “Section Award” presented by the Real Property, Trust and Estate Law Section of the American Bar Association.  A more in-depth version of the article, which also ties into some other issues, is scheduled to appear in the Benjamin N. Cardozo University Journal of Law and Gender in April 2011.

 “Professor Fuselier’s article was in large part the impetus for the Section Award. The article is unique, well-written and well-researched and has appeal for both real property and trusts and estates lawyers across the nation,” said Edward T. Brading, editor of Probate & Property in a prepared statement.

 “I was just in shock when I found out. You think no one will read your article, and then you find out that not only did they read it, but they liked it,” Fuselier said in a university release.  “It’s a complicated area and is getting more complicated. This topic not only is of interest to probate and property law, but also to family law, criminal law, tort law and others. The areas just converge. There aren’t laws to deal with it and disputes are happening.”

 Fuselier became interested in the issue when she began teaching her first property class. She wanted to show her students that “property” could be more than just land. In response to her students’ interested reaction, she began research on her first article, “The Trouble With Putting All of Your Eggs in One Basket: Addressing Potential Property Issues With Cryopreserved Embryos,” which was published in the Texas Journal on Civil Liberties & Civil Rights.  

 “This is a wonderful example of where science, law and medicine come together, but the law is not moving as swiftly as the science and medicine. There needs to be discussion among the disciplines,” she said.

 Fuselier plans to continue to study the subject and will look at embryo adoption in a future article.