People Or Property?

human embryo generic
AP
Deciding on whether human embryos are to be considered persons or property, the New Jersey Supreme Court Tuesday ruled that neither member of a divorced couple can unilaterally implant or destroy embryos they created while married.

The court barred the father from having frozen embryos implanted in another woman, which would make his ex-wife a mother against her will.

However, the court said the father may decide whether the seven embryos should be kept in storage or destroyed. The mother had ask to be allowed to destroy them.

The New Jersey ruling strikes at the heart of an ongoing national debate over whether embryos produced by the process of in-vitro fertilization should be considered property or a form of human life.

Last week, President Bush refused to allow frozen embryos produced by fertility treatments to be used in federally funded stem-cell research.

Tuesday's ruling followed similar decisions handed down over the past nine years by courts in New York, Massachusetts and Tennessee, which have all ruled that embryos cannot be used for reproductive purposes without the consent of both parents.

Tennessee's high court said embryos in this situation are in limbo between being property and being a person and should be afforded "special respect."

The New Jersey couple, who were not publicly identified, had struggled with infertility and used in vitro fertilization to create 11 embryos. Four were implanted without result, but then the woman became pregnant by natural means. In March 1996, a daughter was born. The couple split in September 1996.

Their 1998 divorce settlement left open the question of custody of seven remaining embryos. Their contract with the company storing the embryos said they would be discarded in case of a divorce, unless a court ruled otherwise.

Read the Ruling
Click here to read the New Jersey Supreme Court's ruling in J.B. vs. M.B.
The man, known as "M.B.", a devout Roman Catholic, argued through his lawyer that his former wife would deny him the opportunity to become a father to what he says are unborn children. He wanted the embryos preserved so they could be implanted in a new spouse, but his former wife sought to block that.

The woman, known only as "J.B.", filed a legal petition for permission to detroy the remaining embryos.

In September, a lower state court ruled that the ex-wife could not be forced to become a mother and was free to destroy the frozen embryos. That decision was appealed to the New Jersey Supreme Court, which barred the destruction of the embryos until the appeal was settled.

Tuesday, it ruled that the father can continue to store the embryos but cannot implant them.

"Because M.B. is a father and is capable of having other children, his right to procreate is not lost if he is denied the opportunity to use or donate the pre-embryos; whereas if the pre-embryos are successfully implanted, J.B. will be forced to become a biological parent. On balance, the fundamental right of J.B. not to procreate outweighs M.B.'s right to procreate," the high court ruled.

" Although the Appellate Division’s judgment required the remaining preembryos to be destroyed, in light of J.B.’s representation to the Court during oral argument that she does not object to their continued storage if M.B. wishes to pay any fees associated with that storage, M.B. may elect to continue to have the preembryos stored, but must inform the trial court forthwith whether he will do so at his own expense," the ruling coninuted. "Otherwise, the preembryos are to be destroyed."

Preembryos refer to the matter existing up to 14 days after fertilization.

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