Court ruling re frozen embryos: “thaw and destroy”

Today’s cautionary tale about treating human beings as property:

When Mimi Lee…and Stephen Findley froze five embryos, the couple signed a contract agreeing to destroy them if they ever divorced. The couple did divorce in 2013, and now a judge is holding them to the contract requiring them to “thaw and destroy” the embryos, according to USA Today. California Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo decided the tragic case Wednesday, ruling that the divorced couple must abide by their original contract.

“Decisions about family and children often are difficult, and can be wrenching when they become disputes,” the judge wrote. “The policy best suited to ensuring that these disputes are resolved in a clear-eyed manner … is to give effect to the intentions of the parties at the time of the decision at issue.” [See full post, 11/20/15]

A contract between two people, providing for the disposal of a commodity (for such is the status of human embryos in such cases), has been interpreted to mean exactly what it says. Desperately sad on every level, to be sure, but not so much tragic as inevitable. This is not the only such case – merely the one that’s in the news this week. My heart aches for the mother of the children, who opposes the disposal demanded by the contract she nonetheless must have read before signing.

Treating human offspring as disposable just doesn’t square with the innate dignity of human life. But but but…Who could oppose the tender and loving desire to bear a child? Where’s your compassion? When I read about Judge Massullo’s decision, something written in another context by Flannery O’Connor came to mind: “When tenderness is detached from the source of tenderness, its logical outcome is terror.”

Tenderness, love, desire for children: it all came down to “thaw and destroy.”

Wesley J. Smith, as clear-eyed a bioethicist as there is, had a brief and blunt and clear reaction: “It seems to me such agreements should be unenforceable as against public policy. We are not talking about dividing furniture or a contract to sell a house in the event of divorce. The contract requires the killing of nascent human life. Perhaps if people knew that an agreement to destroy embryos wasn’t enforceable, they would think very long and hard before bringing them into being….We will move heaven and earth to get what we want…until we decide we don’t want it.” (“Thoughts on ‘Destroy the Embryos’ Ruling,” 11/19/15)

(Off topic, worth mentioning: go find O’Connor’s anthology Mystery and Manners, which contains “Introduction to A Memoir of Mary Ann” from which comes the quote above.)

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