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Embryos raise legal issues

Thursday, November 8, 2007 | 10:42 p.m. CST; updated 1:45 p.m. CDT, Tuesday, July 22, 2008

COLUMBIA — Although the term “adoption” implies the belief that embryos are alive, embryos do not have the same legal status as the children of live births. Currently, no state has laws that address embryo adoption specifically, and it is not legally necessary for adoptive parents to go through a traditional adoption process.

Dewey Crepeau, an adoption attorney and executive director of Columbia-based A Gift of Hope Adoptions, said the law is so unclear on embryo adoption that, in some respects, embryos can legally be considered property. Indeed, legally documenting the transfer of embryos from one person to another is similar to that of a transfer of assets.

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“At this point, the embryo is not treated the same as a live birth, although I expect some states may start to take this into account,” he said. “It’s so new, the states have not yet caught up to deal with this.”

Some members of the scientific community and the fertility industry worry that the use of the term “adoption” for embryos may have political implications that could make embryo adoption the only legal option for leftover embryos.

Mary Beck, a law professor at MU and an adoption lawyer, said that the lack of legal precedent raises questions about who the legal parent of a child born from an embryo adoption arrangement really is.

Missouri still adheres to an old form of the Uniform Parentage Act from the 1970s, Beck said. One section of the law says that maternity is either determined by giving birth or by following other provisions of the Parentage Act. That means a woman who gestates a child by embryo transfer may be assumed to be the legal mother. However, a woman who does not establish maternity to a child who is not genetically hers could run into complications if the egg donor contested maternity. Only a parentage action will unequivocally establish maternity and remove questions of legality, Beck said.

Ron Stoddart, founder of the Snowflakes Frozen Embryo Adoption Program, is also an attorney. He said he hopes the law will someday recognize that a baby born of a woman who adopted embryos is legally that woman’s adoptive child. “Right now,” he said, “it’s just presumed (that) if you give birth, it’s your child.”


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