San Francisco Frozen Embryo Dispute Update

Serving Families Throughout Palm Beach Gardens

A closely watched legal battle over the rights to frozen embryos has been decided by a San Francisco judge.  Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo has sided with Stephen Findley in his legal battle with soon to be ex-wife Mimi Lee.

When Mimi Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer, knowing that her future fertility may be affected by the cancer treatments, she and then husband Stephen Findley decided to cryogenically freeze five embryos.  During the process of embryo fertilization the couple signed an agreement stating that in the event of divorce, the embryos would be destroyed.

However, during later divorce proceedings Lee argued the embryos were her only chance to have children and did not want the embryos destroyed. Findley, on the other hand, stood adamant that the embryos were to be disposed of as previously agreed.  After months of legal back and forth, it has been ruled that under the terms of the couple’s agreement, the five embryos are to be destroyed.

In her decision Judge Massullo wrote, “The court holds that while Lee might have a right to procreate in other circumstances not before the court, she does not have a right to procreate with Findley.”  The case between Findley and Lee has been viewed as a key legal test of spousal rights over frozen embryos when couples split.

Although Judge Massullo was sympathetic with Lee’s wish to be a mother, she found that the language of the couple’s agreement overrode Lee’s desires.  Judge Massullo stated, “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. The role of a court here at the intersection of a constitutional statute and the agreement of two competent adults is clear.”  In light of ever changing technology and science, judges must be careful to balance a person’s fundamental right to have a child against governmental interests.  See Cleveland Bd. Of Educ. V. LaFleur, 414 U.S. 632, 639, 94 S.CT. 791, 39L. Ed. 2d 52 (1974) (“[T]here is a right ‘to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.’”).

Lee and her team of lawyers are disappointed in the outcome of the case and are evaluating her legal options.  Lee can appeal the ruling to the First District Court of Appeal in San Francisco, and Judge Massullo has stated if the ruling is appealed she will postpone orders to destroy the embryos.

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John Schutz

John Schutz

Partner at John F. Schutz, P.L.

Representing clients exclusively in family law cases for the past 24 years, Mr. Schutz is widely regarded as a marital and family law expert. He is Board Certified in marital and family law by The Florida Bar. As a Fellow of the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML), Mr. Schutz is committed to elevating the standards and improving the practice of family law.

John Schutz

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