Frozen Embryos: People, Property, or Something In-Between?

While debates over the personhood of fetuses have been raging for years, a new issue has been arising with increasing frequency: what is personhood status of frozen embryos? There have been many recent disputes about how to deal with frozen embryos when the progenitors of such embryos disagree about their use. For example, a divorced Missouri couple is currently involved in a custody battle over their frozen embryos, which were created when the couple were married and went through the process of in vitro fertilization. While the former wife would like to keep the embryos to have more children, the former husband would like the embryos to be destroyed. Similar issues arose for actress Sofia Vergara, whose ex-fiancé wants to use frozen embryos they made when they were engaged.

Cases of this nature beg several important questions. How should embryos in vitro be classified? Does the embryo have rights? What are the rights of each progenitor? Anti-abortion activists have argued that embryos should be treated like other children, while pro-choice advocates contend that people should not be forced to procreate. In the Missouri case referenced above, the Court has tried to avoid these difficult issues with a compromise, calling the embryos “a unique form of marital property” and awarding joint custody to the disputing parties.  Under the Court’s holding, the embryos may only be used if both progenitors agree. While this decision provides a temporary solution, it still leaves many issues unresolved and significant questions unanswered.


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