In late 2016, The Missouri Court of Appeals upheld the decision that pre-embryos were “marital property of a special character” and could not be used to have a child without the consent of both parties. The parties to this case are Jalesia McQueen and then husband Justin Gadberry, who decided to freeze Gadberrys’ sperm just before he was deployed to Iraq. While Gadberry was overseas, the couple discussed In Vitro Fertilization (“IVF”) and just months later two of the four embryos were implanted in McQueen’s uterus. McQueen gave birth to twin boys and froze the other two embryos at a cryobank facility. The couple later divorced and a dispute regarding the disposition of their frozen embryos arose during their divorce proceedings. This dispute quickly turned into a legal case to determine when exactly life begins and the legal status of frozen embryos. The Court of Appeals upheld the trial court’s decision that frozen-embryos cannot be used without the consent of both McQueen and Gadberry. The Court further ruled that frozen embryos are not considered persons. Rather, they are considered the property of the two parties involved.
Judge Robert M. Clayton III wrote the majority opinion, stating that awarding joint custody “subjects neither party to any unwarranted governmental intrusion but leaves the intimate decision of whether to potentially have more children to the parties alone.” The court made it clear in the decision that they were not determining when life begins, but just interpreting the legal status of embryos in Missouri. The Court ruled that embryos have no legal claim to the same protections as a human being under Missouri law, and that forcing the husband to have a child that he doesn’t want to have violates his privacy rights. McQueen is planning on appealing the decision. After the ruling was issued, she stated “It’s part of me, and what rights do the judges or the governments have to tell me I cannot have them?”
Tim Schlesinger, Gadberry’s attorney, commented “I think today’s ruling is a victory for individuals against unjustified government intrusion.” Schlesinger hopes that this case will provide guidance to other states that are facing similar issues. This issue will likely arise in numerous states at some point, as IVF becomes more prevalent. Click here to read our blog post about the legal status of frozen embryos to learn more about where several states stand on this question.