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Court favors Illinois cancer patient in embryo custody case

Each year, assisted reproductive technology enables tens of thousands of individuals and couples in Wheaton, Illinois, and across the country to have children. The American Society for Reproductive Medicine reported more than 61,000 fertility treatment-related births in 2010. Legal changes have lagged as the popularity of assisted fertility has soared.

The ownership of frozen embryos will depend on whether an Illinois appeal is successful. A Cook County court has twice sided with a 42-year-old woman who claimed embryos created with a former boyfriend's help are hers. The boyfriend contends he has the right not to reproduce.

The couple was dating in 2009 when the woman learned she had cancer. The Chicago woman asked her boyfriend whether he would donate sperm for an embryo before she underwent chemotherapy expected to render her infertile. The man agreed, although neither partner had long-term plans for the relationship; the couple parted ways in 2010.

The sperm donor later changed his mind about permitting the cancer patient to use the embryos. No formal document was signed giving the woman exclusive control of the reproductive material. The Elgin man appealed a county court ruling in the woman's favor, but the matter was remanded to the lower court following a refusal by the state Supreme Court to decide the case.

A lower court judge recently affirmed the woman's right to the embryos. The judge noted the embryos represent the woman's only opportunity to become a biological parent, something the man knew when he agreed to donate sperm. The woman agreed to delay implantation of the embryos until the case is resolved in another appeal.

State laws are evolving as courts hear unique disputes over the rights and responsibilities of all parties involved in the artificial conception of a child. In some cases, the argument is not about child custody. Disagreements are custody disputes over children who are yet to be born.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "Judge gives embryos to woman over objection from ex-boyfriend" Angie Leventis Lourgos, May. 16, 2014

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