what if?

My parents made me suspicious of insurance. They weren't necessarily optimistic people, but they just felt they could handle bad outcomes themselves and didn't trust that insurance help with be forth coming in the event of a disaster. They were mistrustful of those who were selling something for the "what if" scenarios of life. I think they understood numbers and felt that if the chance of a house fire was 1/10,000 then it was unlikely to happen to them so don't get fire insurance. So far, so good.

When it comes to embryos, eggs and sperm things are more emotional and harder (potentially impossible) to replace than "things" you insure. One of my patients died recently. She was young and a lovely person. She and her husband had frozen embryos with us prior to her death. She hoped to survive her cancer and one day use those embryos to have children, but she wasn't so fortunate.

In situations like this we look to three documents to know what to do with the embryos: the intention for embryo use expressed to the physician and documented in their file, what they wrote in their consent form at the time the embryos were frozen and the direction provide by their will. For this couple all three documents agreed and we have a plan for their embryos. For other couples it is not so clear.

  • a couple gets divorced and have frozen embryos: who gets to use them?
  • a man freezes his sperm, then dies: does his girlfriend get to use his sperm?
  • a same sex female couple creates embryos then divorces/separates: who can use those embryos?
  • a gay male couple purchases frozen eggs but then the relationship ends: who can use those eggs?

There are truly many scenarios where the ownership and ability to own and use sperm, eggs and embryos can be unclear, tricky and contestable. We met with a lawyer recently to help us make our consent forms more "user friendly" for individuals and couples to direct the use of their eggs/sperm/embryos in the event of a sad outcome like separation or death and make it legally "cleaner" for them. The new consents will be rolled out in a month or so. In our new consent forms we will also emphasize the importance of a will.

Embryos/eggs/sperm ownership can be outlined in a will so it clear what we be done with them the event of a person's death is clear. Wills don't have to be expensive. I am not a lawyer, but I believe a witnessed will you purchase on-line has meaning, legally. Seeing a lawyer is the best way to be sure your wishes are documented, though.

There are several cases of ownership of such tissues being contested in court:

https://www.theglobeandmail.com/opinion/article-who-has-control-over-frozen-embryos-after-divorce/

https://www.fertilitylawbc.com/2016/11/23/can-a-spouse-use-stored-sperm-eggs-or-embryos-after-their-partner-dies/

https://www.theguardian.com/law/2015/may/08/high-court-battle-mother-daughter-frozen-eggs

And sadly many more cases. So, in my opinion, when you freeze eggs or sperm or embryos it is best to make your intentions for their use in "what if" scenarios like separation and death really clear in your consent form and also have a will. This is the one example I think even my parents might agree with having this "insurance."