Supreme Court Ruling: Assisted Reproductive Technology and Social Security benefits

We recently blogged here about a case before the Supreme Court.  The core issue of the case was whether a child who was conceived via in vitro fertilization after the death of his biological father can receive Social Security benefits as his father’s surviving child (Astrue v. Capato).

In this particular case, Robert Capato deposited semen for storage at a local Sperm Bank in 1999 when he was diagnosed with cancer.  Mr. Capato died in 2002.  In 2003 with the help of in vitro fertilization, his wife, Karen, used his sperm to become pregnant and give birth to twins .  Karen’s application for Social Security survivors benefits for the twins, which the Social Security Administration (SSA) denied, prompted lit­igation that led to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has ruled to uphold the original decision that the children are not eligible for Social Security survivor benefits.  The court cites their reasons as:

  1.  The Court defers back to the state law that determined the decision.  Robert Capato resided in Florida at the time of his death and Florida’s intestacy law allows a postmortem child to inherit only if provided for in the decedent’s will.
  2. The Court denies Karen Capato’s claim that because of the biology and legal marriage between her and Robert, the children were entitled to his survivor benefits.  The Court noted that being a biological parent does not necessarily determine the inheritance rights (such as in the case of adoption or egg/sperm donor).

The good news is that the Court does recognize that biology is not the only factor in determining parentage.  With the increase of assisted reproductive methods, this designation from the Supreme Court will most definitely come into play again.

The concern of this ruling is that Social Security inheritance rights of children conceived via Assisted Reproductive Technology are still in question and left up to each state.

Read the Supreme Court’s opinion here.