- An Arizona woman and her then-boyfriend had embryos frozen before the woman’s cancer treatment to improve their chances of having kids afterwards.
- The couple got married, and then divorced. The woman, Ruby Torres, now wants to use the embryos but her ex-husband, John Joseph Terrell, doesn’t want her to.
- After two different court rulings, a third judge ruled in Terrell’s favour, since it aligned with the pair’s original contract.
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Before undergoing cancer treatment in 2014, Ruby Torres and her then-boyfriend John Joseph Terrell decided to freeze embryos, since the treatment could have jeopardized her ability to have children later.
But after getting married and surviving cancer, the couple divorced in 2017, eventually leaving the fate of the embryos in the court’s hands. Torres wanted to use the embryos have children, but Terrell didn’t want his ex-wife to have his biological children.
Their original contract said that if the couple separated, the embryos could be donated or used by one of them with the “express, written consent of both parties,” CNN reported.
After a family court ruled in Terrell’s favour, an appeals court overturned it. Then, on Thursday, the Arizona Supreme Court ruled again in Terrell’s favour since the contract stipulated he would have to be on board with Torres’s use of the embryos.
The case highlights some of the logistical and emotional complications that assisted reproductive technologies can cause, including, as in this case, whether a man’s desire for a specific woman not to parent his biological children should trump the woman’s desire to parent her biological children on her own.
Embryo freezing involves combining eggs with sperm in a lab and storing them for later use
Embryo freezing is a type of assisted reproductive technology that involves fertilizing eggs with sperm in a lab, and then freezing the resulting viable embryos for later use.
The procedure can be a relief for people about to undergo cancer treatments like chemotherapy, which can dramatically compromise fertility. It can also help couples have a chance at later-in-life pregnancies, as well as single women or same-sex couples (who use donated sperm) who aren’t ready to have children during their reproductive primes.
While people can also just freeze their eggs without having them fertilised with sperm first, avoiding complicated and emotional ownership situations like Torres and Terrell’s, embryos are more robust and so more likely to survive the freezing and thawing cycle and to eventually result in a pregnancy.
In other words, if you think you know who you want your future children’s biological father to be, it’s a safer bet to freeze embryos than eggs. But the longer-term risks are still being understood, with one recent study finding that children born from frozen embryos are more likely to develop childhood cancer.
The case illustrates how fertility treatments can both solve and create problems
Assisted reproductive technology has given many people who might otherwise never been able to have biological children more options, with one-third of American adults reporting that they or someone they know has used fertility treatment, according to a 2018 Pew Research Centre survey.
But the procedures have also raised societal questions and legal battles around what being a parent means, who’s entitled to what reproductive material, and who or what should answer those questions.
Last summer, for instance, two couples sued a California fertility clinic after an embryo mixup led one of them to have one of the others’ baby. The scenario highlighted the many gaps in the fertility clinic industry, which includes close to 500 clinics and centres in the U.S. which are largely unregulated.
In November, researchers found that some IVF clinics are offering couples expensive “add-on” treatments that lack a solid evidence base and in some cases may even interfere with a woman’s chances of getting pregnant, Insider previously reported.
A debate is currently ongoing in the UK, where some researchers recently proposed that men be able to donate their sperm after death, just like other organs.
While the proposal could help solve the donor sperm shortage there, it raises ethical questions, including who can use the sperm and how many can be used from the same person.
“Morally, I think one of the worst things you can do to someone is replicate them without their consent,” bioethicist Arthur Caplan previously told Insider.
- Read more:
- A woman with a transplanted uterus from a deceased donor gave birth for the second time ever in the US
- How men and women can increase fertility to get pregnant
- 13 things that may decrease your sperm count and quality, including junk food and tight underwear
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