When anesthesiologist Mimi Lee was diagnosed with breast cancer just ten days before her wedding to financial analyst Stephen Findley, the couple was shocked. As the Chronicle and NBC Bay Area explain, at 41-years-old Lee was eager to have her own biological children with Findley but concerned that her age and the coming cancer treatments would leave her infertile. Through in-vitro fertilization the couple created five embryos, which were then frozen. The two signed an agreement at UCSF, where the procedure was performed, agreeing that the embryos would be given to one of them only in the event of the other’s death and could be thawed and discarded in the event of both of their deaths or, as Findley is firm on, their separation.
Indeed, Findley did file for divorce in 2013. And today the first hearing takes place in San Francisco to decide the embryos' fate, with Lee and Findley expected to take the stand later in the week.
“It is the first time the California courts will address the issue,” said Lee Wolosky, a partner with the law firm Boies, Schiller and Flexner, which has represented Lee throughout the case. “The cases in other states have really come out all over the place ... but no court has ever held against a woman for whom the embryos in dispute represent her only chance to have biological children."
As more couples choose the procedure, there are now more than 600,000 "cryopreserved embryos" in the US.
Wolosky contends that the agreement served to provide disclosure of the procedure’s risks. The contract, he argues, was between the couple and UCSF, not Lee and Findley. Lee's lawyers, the San Jose Mercury News reports, are urging Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo to find that discarding the embryos would foreclose an infertile woman's ability to "realize the fundamental and constitutionally protected bond of a parent and a child."
The question of what happens to frozen embryos when a couple separates was raised recently and highly publicly when Nick Loeb, Sofia Vergara's ex-fiancé, penned this New York Times Op-Ed about the couple's frozen embryos, which Vergara wanted destroyed but which he considered to be a form of life due to his "religious beliefs." "A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term even if the man objects," Loeb wrote. "Shouldn’t a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term even if the woman objects?" Last month Vergara was dogged by "pro-lifers" demanding that she let her embryos, described by the protestors as "children" or "daughters" live. The protest took place at the Magic Mike XXL premier.