Bioethics Discussion Blog: Frozen Embryo Destroyed: Wrongful Death or Breach of Contract?

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Saturday, February 05, 2005

Frozen Embryo Destroyed: Wrongful Death or Breach of Contract?

The state of Illinois defines human life as beginning
at conception.
"Without in any way restricting the right of privacy of a
woman
or the right of a woman to an abortion under those decisions, the General
Assembly
of the State of Illinois do solemnly declare and find in reaffirmation of the
longstanding policy of this State, that the unborn child is a human being
from
the time of conception and is, therefore, a legal person for purposes of the
unborn child's right to life and is entitled to the right to life from
conception under
the laws and Constitution of this State. (720 ILCS 510/1) (from Ch. 38,
par. 81 21)"
In view of the law, this news item excerpted from the Chicago Sun Times is disconcerting and has significant implications.

February 5, 2005

BY STEVE PATTERSON AND ABDON M. PALLASCH Staff Reporters

A frozen embryo destroyed in a Chicago fertility clinic was a human being whose parents are entitled to file a wrongful-death lawsuit, a Cook County judge ruled Friday.

Attorneys on both sides of the abortion issue said it was the first such ruling they had heard of as the country debates whether stem cells derived from embryos can be used in research and medicine.

Alison Miller and Todd Parrish hoped to conceive a child with help from the Center for Human Reproduction, but the one fertilized egg the couple created was thrown out 'in error' by a clinic worker.

Friday, Judge Jeffrey Lawrence II said 'a pre-embryo is a 'human being' ... whether or not it is implanted in its mother's womb' and the couple is entitled to seek the same compensation awarded to other parents whose children are killed.

'Philosophers and theologians may debate,' he wrote, 'but there is no doubt in the mind of the Illinois Legislature when life begins. It begins at conception.'"

What do you think about this legal decision? Wouldn't it be considered more reasonable to consider the act of the clinic as a breach of contract or malpractice? ..Maurice.

4 Comments:

At Saturday, February 05, 2005 1:35:00 PM, Blogger Chris Rangel said...

Total hogwash. It's neither practical nor supported by legal precedent for the state of Illinois to declare a fertilized egg to be a "human being" with a "right to life".

Is there death a certificate issued for every fetal demise? What about for every miscarriage? Do parents get tax breaks for the fetus? If a woman miscarries, does she face charges for violating the fetal right to live? Let’s say that a woman has a history of miscarriages or has a medical condition that puts her at high risk for miscarriage. Is she libel for conceiving knowing that she has such risks? What if in order to save the life of the woman or treat a serious medical condition it is necessary to cause the death of the fetus? Is the doctor arrested?

The General Assembly of the State of Illinois needs to stop playing legislative "pussy foot" and either directly oppose the Supreme Court decision or back off and stop supporting this kind of crap legislation just to prime their reputations for re-election.

You don't pass laws that are intended as "rhetorical legislation" or statements of belief. There are and will be unintended consequences.

Does a wrongful-death lawsuit potentially bring more money than a malpractice suit or is this case just another opportunity for the anti-abortion forces to grand stand and try and get a precedent setting case into the law books?

 
At Saturday, February 05, 2005 4:51:00 PM, Blogger Maurice Bernstein, M.D. said...

I fully agree with Chris's analytic commentary. It appears to me that the Illinois legislature has performed the same missteps as the Florida legislature did in the Schiavo case. They put political expediency ahead of thoughtful analysis of the social benefit, harms and consequences. What a shame! ..Maurice.

 
At Monday, February 07, 2005 9:15:00 AM, Blogger jb said...

Chris, to answer your questions in turn:
No, a death certificate is not issued for every fetal demise or every miscarriage, however appropriate records are generated when a woman presents with a miscarriage to a medical facility. If a woman miscarries, she does not face charges for violating in the fetal right to live, as miscarriages are generally spontaneous and certainly not desired by the mother. However, a case can be made that a woman who intentionally engages in activity that is reasonably expected to injure a fetus should be liable, just as she would be if she endangered her six-month old infant.
A history of miscarriages would never subject a woman to legal actions unless, again, she intentionally engaged in activities that she knows would endanger the infant. Giving an infant a chance at life should be something that is encouraged. Causing the death of the fetus by engaging in activity that truly saves the life of the mother is everywhere recognized as appropriate. This theory has been stretched beyond reasonableness by some pro-abortion people who value the mother's convenience above the life of the baby, claiming that is appropriate to destroy a fetus if it would make the mother's life more difficult.

I agree that it is ludicrous for the Legislature to pass self contradictory laws, as the Illinois legislature apparently has. It appears that the Legislature has given the unborn child the status of a house pet. I can choose to put my pet dog to sleep for any or no reason at all whenever I feel like it. Nobody else has that right to make the decision for me, and any person who injures or kills my dog would be liable for damages, however slight.

As medical science progresses, the rights of the unborn child, at whatever stage of development, will continue to be the most difficult area to deal with. As a practical matter, a couple who has gone the IVF route has invested significantly more time, trouble, and money in trying to conceive a child than the typical couple who does it the old-fashioned way. It is reasonable that this couple would be as emotionally invested in this small collection of cells, which after all does have a unique genetic makeup, as a traditional mom and dad. Dismissing this as political grandstanding does not advance the argument, as many, if not most Americans, are in sympathy with the theory behind this lawsuit.

 
At Saturday, December 20, 2008 3:28:00 PM, Anonymous Deiter said...

I'm neither a medical professional nor a scientist, only an observer of science and philosophy with a keen interest.

For me, the only proper way to address the issues of embryos, the beginnings of life, stem cell research, etc, is to discuss the subject away from religious contexts and deal with it entirely on the merits and consequences for humanity: I.e., the one here, bound to earth. Let the spiritual class worry about the life beyond in their temples and churches and leave science to sort out the realities for the living. (Full disclosure: I'm a non-theist.)

Considering the subject outside of its religious drag (as if religions could even come to an agreement), the matter of what an embryo is and how a human embryo--separated from it's DNA structure--differs from those of other creatures, does indeed seem rather simple. Not to go all Eckhart Tolle on the matter, but separated from the elements human ego, the argument diminishes: The only real obstacle is dogma.

Clearly, an embryo is NOT a human being.

Otherwise: Let's insist that a burden of proof needs to accompany an ideology when it's brought to the table. What exactly is the evidence for ensoulment? What is a human being: Is it a zygote with a particular DNA strand or is it a viable, breathing creature? (Even in a coma a developed human can be made to breathe.) In the first weeks of life a human is practically, and most importantly, MATERIALLY indistinguishable from other animals. (As an animal in it's pre-born, non-productive stage, it's value is far more prosaic.)

Ultimately, this is a material issue that deserves material solutions. Whether an embryo is a entitled to status as a full human being should not be decided by matters of faith.

 

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