Court Rules Frozen Embryos Can't Be Used

A court ruling today tested the limits of science and the law. It was a custody battle over frozen human embryos, and Jim Axelrod has the report.

There's a new capital of the "brave new world" of human reproduction: Trenton, New Jersey. There the state supreme court has ruled that frozen embryos left over from two people trying to have a baby can't be used when one of them no longer wants to.

Law professor Carol Sager says, "No one, neither husband nor wife, can be forced to become a mother or a father without their consent."

The story begins at this reproductive clinic where seven frozen embryo's created "in vitro" are being stored. They belong to a divorced couple--a man who wants the right to one day implant the embryos in a new spouse and an ex-wife who says no.

As Sager said last year, "He can father as many children in this state as he wants. What he cannot do is use that as a basis to coerce my client to become a parent against her will."

Today the court announced it agreed that since the man is physically able to father another child, his "right to procreate is not lost if he is denied an opportunity to use . . . [these] pre-embryos."

Sager says, "The law is going to come down on the side of the parent who doesn't want to be coerced into parenthood."

As President George W. Bush said in his public address to the nation on stem cells, "On the first issue--are these embryos human life?"

With the status of embryos a front-burner topic in America, this decision affirms that--legally at least--while embryos are in a limbo state between property and personhood the arguments are about "control" of them, not "custody."

Professor Bonnie Steinbach of the State University of New York at Albany says, "It reaffirms what has been said in the past, that human embryos are not human beings and therefore custody decisions and things like that are not appropriate."

The court left the decision about what to do with the embryos to the father. He can destroy them or store them while he appeals. The one thing he can't do is try to bring them to term wihout his ex-wife's permission.
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