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Embryos, IVF and Divorce. What You Need to Think About Before Your IVF Cycle Starts.

June 16, 2015 | By: | Filed under: Current Affairs, Embryo Disposition, Embryos, Frozen Embryos, In the News, infertility in the media, Infertility on Television, IVF

Frozen embryos have been in the news quite a bit recently.  There is the Sofia Vergara/Nick Loeb embryo battle.  I don’t think anyone could have missed the media coverage on that story.  Then there  is a case in Illinois involving embryos created before a woman, Karla, underwent chemo therapy and which embryos represent her last chance to have a genetic child.  The man, Jacob, who agreed to help her create the embryos (and allowed his sperm to be used for purposes of fertilizing her eggs) no longer wants her to use the embryos to have a genetic child.  This case also is getting a lot of media attention.   And there are a host of other cases which have not been talked about in the media but which are winding their way through the court system.  There is a lot to learn from these cases and a lot to think about.  And I mean think about NOW, before your IVF cycle starts, and cerainly before you break-up, separate, or get divorced. I know none of us want to think about unpleasant things when we are trying to get pregnant, but this is one of those times when advance planning might be a better idea than telling yourself something like this would never happen to you.  Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART) is a lot to deal with no matter what but, as in most cases, ignoring this issue is likely to make things worse, not better.

I remember that when I was presented with consent forms at my IVF Clinic, and I tried to read and digest what the forms meant, the last thing I cared about was what would happen to my embryos at some random point in the future.  I ignored issues that I found unpleasant.  If it didn’t involve a potential positive pregnancy test, my head went deep into the sand. However, as I did more and more cycles, I started to care more about my responses on the forms.  To be honest, it was really only because I became more concerned about what would be happening to “my” embryos under various circumstances which did not involve my uterus.  As I became more familiar with the process of ART and IVF and more invested in the outcome, I started to think of the embryos less in the abstract; the embryos became more a part of me and thus I became more invested in how they might be “used”, other than to get me pregnant.  But never in a million years did I think about what would happen to frozen embryos if my DH and I got divorced.  For that matter, none of the health professionals at my clinic discussed issues regarding the disposition of these embryos in the event we got divorced.  Perhaps this issue wasn’t on the radar way back in the dark ages of infertility treatment (when I did my IVF cycles), but it is on the radar now and people are definitely fighting over who can use the embryos after they separate or get divorced.

In retrospect — and hindsight really is 20/20 — I know that if I had separated or divorced with frozen embryos that I would have fought to the proverbial death to be able to use those embryos, regardless of what anyone else might have thought or felt about the embryos.  So I get why people fight over this.  And as a lawyer helping people understand the legal issues involved in assisted reproduction, one of my jobs is to educate people about what can happen if they later disagree about the who, when and where of embryo disposition.

The cases which have been litigated and those which are winding their way through the court system, unfortunately are inconsistent in their decisions.  That is, some courts enforce consent forms, some enforce oral agreements, some enforce the rights of the person who doesn’t want the embryos used, and some courts might be said to have enforced the rights of the embryo (IF embryos can be said to have rights, and I am not going down THAT path in THIS blog).  So what can we do?  We can read those consent forms for one thing.  We also can discuss this issue with our partners.

Reproductive law has one common theme, it looks to the parties’ intent at the time ART is used to create an embryo to decide who is supposed to be a parent, and under what circumstances the embryos can be used by those parents if they are no longer in a relationship.  If a court is going to be looking for evidence of our intent about whether we can use a frozen embryo against the wishes of our partner after we break-up, then it behooves us to figure out what that intent is.  Sadly most of us do not have the financial resources to fight a battle like Sofia Vergara’s.  But in our minds and hearts, we all have as much at stake as do Karla and Jacob in the Illinois case.  And while all of us might want a baby now, Sofia Vergara and Jacob (just to name two) provide ample evidence that what “all of us” want now may not be what we “all” want in the future.

 

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Five Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes – How do you measure your life in infertility treatment?

March 26, 2015 | By: | Filed under: Deadly Silence, Egg Donation, Faith and Infertility, Infertility Awareness, infertility in the media, IVF, Miscarriage, National Infertility Awareness, Peace to Parenthood, Personal Musings, Recurrent Pregnancy Loss, The Journey to Parenthood, Thinking Out Loud, Third-Party Assisted Reproduction, Treatment, Uncategorized, visualization

 

Five Hundred Twenty Five Thousand Six Hundred Minutes

How do you measure your life in infertility treatment?

How do you measure a day, or a year?

 

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred tests
Five hundred twenty five thousand moments, oh dear
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred dollars
How do you measure, measure an IVF year?

In daylights, in sunsets
In phone calls, in cups of coffee
In inches, in pounds, in needles, in surgery
In five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes
How do you measure, a year of infertility?

How about love for the baby you’re creating?
How about love for the people helping you conceive?
How about love for your partner or a friend?
Measure in love

Cycles of love
Cycles of love

Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred blood draws
Five hundred twenty five thousand follicles to count
Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred heartbeats
How do you measure the life of an infertile woman or a man?

In diagnoses that she learned
Or in times that he cried
In money they lost or the day the baby died?

It’s time now, to sing out
Though the story never ends
Let’s celebrate
Remember a year in the life of our infertile friends

Remember to love
Oh, you got to, you got to remember to love
Remember to love
You know that love is a gift from up above
Remember to love
Share love, give love, spread love
Measure in love
Measure, measure your infertility in love

Cycles of love
Cycles of love
Measure your infertility, measure your life in love

Inspired By Rent — Seasons Of Love, Lyrics

 

 

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Sherri Shepherd’s Surrogacy Battle and the View from the Other Side.

March 16, 2015 | By: | Filed under: Current Affairs, Egg Donation, Faith and Infertility, Gestational Carrier, In the News, In-House Egg Donation Programs, infertility in the media, Infertility on Television, IVF, Personal Musings, Surrogacy, Thinking Out Loud

Sherri Shepherd.  Who hasn’t heard her name recently?  The former host of The View is in the midst of a major lawsuit with her ex-husband over her son.  She claims she doesn’t have any responsibility for the child she helped bring into this world.  REALLY??  Is she serious?  Sadly, yes.  And she’s leaving this issue — what could be a ground-breaking decision in the laws pertaining to third-party assisted reproduction — to a Judge to decide.  She couldn’t work it out privately with her Ex.  Nope, she had to go to Court.

I used to like Ms. Shepherd.  She spoke on behalf of the infertile.  She was our advocate.  She was one of the very few public — celebrity voices — speaking about the pain of infertility.  I am trying to have faith in our judicial system right now because Ms. Shepherd has destroyed my faith in the power of the infertile woman.  What she is doing, is to me, disgraceful.  Wow!  I guess I am angry.

I went to a benefit a few years ago for RESOLVE.  It was its annual Night of Hope and Ms. Shepherd was receiving an award for raising awareness about infertility.  She gave a moving speech about the pain we go through when we cannot conceive without medical help — without help from third-parties.  She moved me to tears talking about how much she wanted a baby and to be a mother and how sad she was every time her fertility treatment failed.  It was very clear during that speech that she wanted nothing more than what every other infertile woman wants, a BABY.  And now she’s trying to dump the responsibility for that baby — that longed-for, hoped-for, much-wanted baby — on someone else.  And that someone else is her egg donor or surrogate, that third party without whom she and Mr. Sally would not have conceived, and realized what she said was her dream.  Her dream of becoming a mother.

Many of us don’t realize that dream and that’s why I find her actions to be such a slap in the face.  To go from being a proud infertile woman putting one foot in front of the other and thanking her fertility specialist (I can remember his name) for helping her, to dumping responsibility that is rightly hers on the people who helped her achieve that dream.  That’s just wrong.  It is morally wrong and it is legally wrong.  I am going to stop discussing the moral component of it because I get the fact that there are people in this world for whom I hold little or no respect.  But from a legal standpoint, what she’s doing is profoundly dangerous and could potentially turn reproductive law upside down, and erase years of progress helping women just like Ms. Shepherd become mothers.

I should comment that I don’t know many details about Ms. Shepherd’s egg donation arrangement or surrogacy arrangement.  But if she’s litigating this issue in Pennsylvania then I am guessing her surrogate is a resident of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania and that the laws of that Commonwealth govern the surrogacy agreement.  The thing is, there isn’t really any law in Pennsylvania when it comes to third-party assisted reproduction.  There isn’t a statute governing third-party assisted reproduction and when there isn’t a statute governing the actions of intended parents like Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally, the laws of third-party assisted reproduction typically look to the intent of the intended parents (Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally) prior to the conception of the child.  Typically those intentions are spelled out either in an egg donation agreement or gestational surrogacy agreement (or both), or in some cases through consent forms signed by an egg donor at the fertility clinic at the time she donated her eggs.  But the bottom line is that there is some written statement that the egg donor does not want to have parental rights to any child conceived from her donation, and that the intended parents want to have parental rights and all the responsibilities that come with parenthood for any child conceived from the donation of eggs by the donor.  Similarly, the intended parents (Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally) would — and in this case did — enter into a gestational surrogacy agreement which would clearly spell out that the intended parents (Ms. Shepherd and Mr. Sally) were going to be the parents of the child the surrogate carried, and the surrogate would not have any parental rights.  A well-written agreement would address what would happen in the event the intended parents divorce prior to the birth of the child.  Typically the intended parents are still the parents even if they divorce but maybe her agreement says something different, or is silent on the point.  But the bottom line is that in order to have conceived this child, Ms. Shepherd’s egg donor waived all parental rights and Ms. Shepherd assumed them; and Ms. Shepherd stated her unequivocal desire and intent to be a parent of the child her surrogate was carrying and her surrogate expressed no desire or intention to ever be the child’s parent.  I would be shocked if the legal documents at issue in her case don’t refer to the parties’ intent about who were going to be this child’s parents.  Ms. Shepherd claims she was defrauded into entering into the agreement.  I find that hard to believe given the years of infertility treatment she went through and the statements I heard her make that night at RESOLVE.  I think she wanted this baby.

The question is whether the Judge will uphold the terms of those documents or contracts.  And that is where I get scared.  What if the Judge decides that the agreement with the surrogate is unenforceable for some reason and that Ms. Shepherd isn’t legally responsible for this child, that she isn’t his mother?  What then?  Does any intended parent get to change their mind when they one day decide that they don’t want to be a parent anymore?  Where does that leave the law of intent as it informs decisions related to third-party assisted reproduction?  Is the intent of the parties what governs the determination of parentage or is a gestational surrogacy agreement or egg donation agreement just another contract that can be thrown out of court on technical or some other grounds?  Decades of law pertaining to third-party assisted reproduction are at risk.  All the hard work my colleagues have done to make it possible for Ms. Shepherd even to consider having a child through third-party assisted reproduction could be damaged, even worse, destroyed.  Will Pennsylvania remain a surrogate-friendly state?  I get sick thinking about it.

Ms. Shepherd has crossed over to the other side, that of becoming a parent after battling infertility.  And apparently she doesn’t like the view so much.  I get the fact that Ms. Shepherd is angry at her ex-husband.  I get the fact that she doesn’t want to be in this child’s life.  I may not agree with her moral positions but legally I am horrified at the way she is going about getting out of her obligations as a parent.  What she is doing has the potential to set the law back in ways so significant as to preclude other infertile women and men from having a child through third-party assisted reproduction.  I am at a loss to understand how someone who was such a staunch advocate for the infertility community and who so desperately wanted a baby could get to a place where she wanted to put the rights of so many others like her at risk.  I cannot fathom why someone would risk establishing a legal precedent that could jeaopardize the rights of so many just like her.

This all begs one question:  What would Ms. Shepherd have said three or four years ago about someone taking the position she is taking today?  Probably nothing nice.

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Successful Surrogacy in New York: Myth or Reality?

March 5, 2015 | By: | Filed under: New York Reproductive Law, Surrogacy

Successful Surrogacy in New York

Myth or Reality?

 Most people think surrogacy is illegal in New York. This is true, in part; but it’s not completely true. I have tried demystifying this topic, but confusion remains despite my best, and repeated efforts.  So let’s try again because there are a lot of people in New York State who need to use a surrogate to build their family and they should know the scoop on surrogacy.  And there are a lot of women interested in carrying a baby for another couple or parent, who would like to be a gestational carrier or surrogate but don’t know what rights they have under NY law (please note I use the terms surrogate and gestational carrier interchangeably except where otherwise noted).

There is no doubt that we, as New Yorkers seeking to build a family and we, as New Yorkers in the family building business, are at a HUGE disadvantage when compared to states like Connecticut and California, or Illinois or Massachusetts where surrogacy is legal and perhaps even governed by statute. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have options. As a prospective or intended parent you can enter into a gestational surrogacy relationship, you just need to know when and how you can do it. As a lawyer or doctor, you can certainly help people have babies through surrogacy, you just need to know what aspects of your role in this family building process are legally proscribed or permissible. (This blog addresses only those aspects of family building through surrogacy for prospective or intended parents or gestational surrogates.)

The three biggest myths surrounding surrogacy in NY are:

Myth Number 1: Surrogacy always is illegal in New York

Myth Number 2: Traditional Surrogacy is illegal in New York

Myth Number 3:  NY will not recognize a surrogacy relationship entered into in another state.

 This blog will debunk the first myth that surrogacy always is illegal in New York.  Subsequent blogs will address traditional surrogacy, another type of surrogacy where the surrogate uses her own egg to help conceive a baby for prospective parents, and what happens when NY courts get involved in enforcing or recognizing gestational carrier arrangements made in other states.

So back to our first myth.  Only certain types of surrogacy are illegal in New York, not all surrogacy. As a NY resident and intended parent you:

(1)  cannot pay another NY resident to carry a child for you; and/or

(2) enter into a contract for that NY resident to carry that baby deliver in NY.

Any contract for a compensated gestational carrier/surrogate who resides in the State of NY and will deliver in the State of NY violates NY law.  The contract itself is illegal and unenforceable and the compensation is illegal.  Drafting the contract and matching the prospective parents with the surrogate also happen to be illegal but that gets us more into the work that attorneys and doctors perform with relation to gestational surrogacy.

A NY prospective parent,  however, can enter into a contract to have someone outside of NY carry a baby for them; and they may compensate that gestational carrier (provided of course she lives and will deliver in a surrogacy friendly state–more on this in a moment). So let’s break it down to what is illegal:

            Paying a gestational carrier in NY to carry and deliver a baby in NY.

            Entering into a contract to pay the gestational carrier in NY to carry and deliver the baby in NY.

      I have oversimplified this a bit, but I think you get the essential points.

No contract, no payment.

Prohibitions aside, if you are a NY intended parent and need to use a surrogate, or you are interested in becoming a gestational surrogate you have very doable options:

You can have a friend or family member act as a gestational carrier for you, or you can carry a baby for a friend or family member, as long as there is no compensation.  This is called “compassionate surrogacy”.  Strange as it may seem, this happens more frequently than you would think and more women are willing to help their friends and family members by acting as “compassionate gestational carriers” than you might expect.  If you are a prospective parent, don’t write-off this option just because you can’t think of anyone who would do this for you.  You might be surprised to find out that your sister-in-law or best friend from college would be willing to carry a baby for you, and expect or want nothing in return.  Some things to conisder about compassionate surrogacy:  Of important note, you cannot have a contract in this type of relationship, but you do need legal documents prepared before the baby is conceived which explain the process and the laws of the State of New York as they apply to compassionate surrogacy.  This legal document, albeit not an enforceable contract, will discuss the parties’ intent to conceive a child through third-party assisted reproduction, explain how the intended parents’ parental rights will be established and when the surrogate’s parental rights (and her husband if she’s married) will be terminated as she will be deemed the child’s birth and legal parent at the time of birth (as will her husband), and how and when a birth certificate will be issued with both intended parents names (assuming there are two intended parents – it could of course just be a single prospective parent).  That’s a quick summary of compassionate surrogacy and NY.

You also can look for gestational carriers in surrogacy friendly states – outside of New York.  In those states you can compensate the gestational carrier (it usually is easier to find a gestational carrier who will be compensated than one who will do this out of love and affection and without compensation), and enter into a binding, enforceable contract. In many of these states you can get a pre-birth order that identifies the prospective or intended parents as the legal parents from birth and relieving (for lack of a better word) the surrogate of any parental rights or obligations she does not want to have.  Other states permit you to obtain a post-birth order that identifies the intended parents as the legal parents for purposes of the issuance of a birth certificate with their names on it. Sometimes, a non-genetic parent (for example, when an egg donor was used, or for same-sex couples where one parent may not be genetically related to the baby) may have to enter into a step-parent adoption when they get back to NY, but that isn’t a huge burden if you have found a wonderful surrogate.

There is no doubt that the laws as they pertain to surrogacy both in and outside of NY are complicated and can be overwhelming, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do this. It is simply a question of who will carry your baby. If you have a friend or family member who is a NY resident and who wants to carry a baby for you, as long as you don’t pay them money to carry the baby it is legal to enter into surrogacy arrangement. If you don’t have a friend or family member willing to carry on a compassionate (uncompensated) basis, then you need to go outside the borders of NY and find a surrogate whom you will compensate.

For more information on surrogacy-friendly states (NY is, of course, not considered surrogacy-friendly because you cannot compensate a gestational surrogate), and for more information on the laws of other states that might help you locate a surrogate check out this website:

http://creativefamilyconnections.com/surrogacy-law-by-state/

 

Nothing in this blog is intended to, nor shall it be considered legal advice.  Nothing herein shall be deemed to create an attorney-client relationship.  The contents of this blog are for informational purposes only.

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Never, Ever Give Up

October 29, 2014 | By: | Filed under: adoption, Age and Infertility, Egg Donation, Faith and Infertility, IVF, Peace to Parenthood, Personal Musings, Surrogacy, Thinking Out Loud, Thoughts on Choosing an Egg Donor

Today is one of those days where I wish I could make all the hurt and pain go away for one of my clients.  For today, everything seems to be falling apart on their path to parenthood.  The thing is, I cannot count the number of clients I have had who have been in similar situations — afraid that they had run out of options or run out of money — and we found a way, they perservered for another day and then another day after that until I got the glorious news that they finally had a baby on the way (whether through egg donation, surrogacy or adoption).

With everyone of those clients I refused to give up, I refused to let them give up.  Because I have seen so, so many of those “never gonna happen to me/us” situations have a happy ending.

More to the point, I have spoken with so many of those parents who, in the end, were grateful for all the mishaps, all the donors who changed their mind or were screened-out, the changing of surrogates after two failed embryo transfers with only one embryo left . . . whatever the situation was (and there are so many I am not even going to begin to try and describe them all–you know how hard this can be), every single time when I got the call to tell me the joyous news, my client express grattitude for all the mishaps.  GRATTITUDE.  Because but for those mishaps, they wouldn’t be holding THIS baby, at this moment, and they couldn’t imagine not having THIS baby.

This happened to me too.  Had one of our adoptions not been disrupted (as in the baby went back to its birth mother after placement), I wouldn’t have the family I have today.  I loved that baby but I love THIS family more.

Whatever happens on your path, whenever you have a crappy-puts-you-over-the-edge-you-can’t-take-it-anymore-this-is-never-going-to-happen-for-me kind of day, remember that tomorrow is a new day with a new opportunity.  That there are more options and more choices, you just have to keep looking and putting one foot in front of the other.  It may suck today but one day, it might all actually make sense.  At the very least, one day you will know that but for all that came before, you wouldn’t be holding THIS baby.

So this my advice for today:

Never, Ever Give Up.  At least that’s what the sign above my desk says, and I believe it says it all.

(I like this necklace too)

never ever give up hope



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