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When Judge’s get it wrong when endeavoring to make it right. Second-parent adoption proceedings in New York after U.S. v. Windsor and In the Matter of Seb C-M.

January 31, 2014 | By: | Filed under: adoption, Current Affairs, In the News, Sam Sex Parenting and Reproductive Law, Same Sex Parenting and Reproductive Law, Third-Party Assisted Reproduction, Uncategorized

Disclaimer:  The following blog post is of a rather technical nature insofar as it is an analysis of recent legal decisions impacting second-parent adoptions and the rights of same-sex parents in New York State.  While I will strive to make legal quotes as easy to read as possible (I will not be following strict legal citation formatting) it has occurred to me that some people might like me to translate this blog into plain English.  Accordingly, once this post is up I will create a second post which strips this blog down into simpler, more understandable terms for those people who didn’t make the mistake of going to law school and having their brains completely and utterly corrupted.  So, if you understand the following blog, more power to you but if you don’t (I’m not sure I do and I wrote it), fear not, I will post a follow-up written from that part of my brain that speaks to human beings and not lawyers.  😉  I also apologize for the length of this blog.  This wasn’t an easy argument to lay out and perhaps a blog isn’t the best means of getting my thoughts “out there” . . . but I needed to reason through this new case and I needed to do it in a public forum because I am concerned about the ramifications of this decision.

By now most people are aware of the groundbreaking, landmark decision in the case of United States v. Windsor, a case which determined that same-sex marriages must be recognized under federal law, thereby overturning part of DOMA, and leading to the passage of many state laws embracing same sex marriage or otherwise altering state’s views on same-sex marriage.  One important fact about Windsor that many people have overlooked — although lawyers took note — is that Windsor did not apply to section 2 of DOMA, which permits states to ignore or fail to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states.  Thus while the federal government must now recognize the marriage of two men or two women in the State of New York, Windsor did nothing to change the rights of other states to ignore same-sex marriages entered into in New York.  Insofar as a state could ignore or choose not to recognize such a marriage, that state also could choose not to recognize the legitimacy of children born during the course of that marriage.  Even in the tremendous wake of Windsor, as nothing changed on this point — recognition of same-sex marriages in states unfriendly to principles of marriage equality — lawyers did not alter the advice they offered to clients who are in same-sex marriages especially with respect to those issues related to recognition of their rights as parents.   At least I didn’t change my recommendations and last time I checked I still had that dubious distinction of being a lawyer and one who practices in the field of third-party assisted reproduction and adoption law.  

Because Section 2 of DOMA remains good law, attorneys typically recommend to their clients who are same-sex families that the non-genetic or non-gestational parent should enter into a second-parent adoption in order to ensure that his/her parental rights are recognized in hostile states (states that don’t like same-sex marriages).  The hypothetical I typically provide to my clients upon discussing whether and to what extent they might deem it appropriate to take the additional step of entering into a second-parent adoption to secure their parental rights in other states, is one involving a medical crisis.  And because I used to be a drama major (and perhaps still am in many respects), I have created a lovely little soap-opera-like legal hypothetical to help make my point:  Let’s say that Jane and Jan, who are married under the laws of the State of New York, have a child, Jack, who is genetically related to Jane.  Jane also is Jack’s birth or gestational mother, but Jan has no genetic or gestational connection to Jack.  Jan is Jack’s mother because –like all couples who have a child together — she intended to conceive him with Jane, and was married to Jane when Jack was born.  Because NY law is so favorable to same-sex couples, both Jane and Jan are listed on baby Jack’s birth certificate.  New York basically says that it doesn’t matter what your sexual orientation is, if you are married at the time a child is born, both married partners have equal rights to the child born during the marriage, and both parents names shall be placed on that child’s birth certificate.  This is wonderful law and I am proud to be a New Yorker because of its stance with respect to marriage equality.  However, just because NY lets Jane and Jan put Jan’s, the non-genetic parent’s, name on baby Jack’s birth certificate, doesn’t necessarily protect Jan if they get into a car accident in a state which doesn’t respect marriage equality.  In my horrific hypothetical soap opera-like drama, I ask Jane and Jan to consider what happens to them if they get into a car accident in a state that is unfriendly to same-sex marriage.  Imagine that Jane is on life support and unable to communicate, and little Jack is critically injured and needs surgery (hey I said I am the queen of drama).  The hospital however, refuses to recognize Jan as Jack’s parent, refuses to recognize Jane’s and Jan’s marriage, and Jan is in a time-sensitive situation in which she needs to make a medical decision to save her son’s life but is being precluded from so doing because the state  in which this accident took place doesn’t recognize any aspect of Jan’s relationship to Jack or Jane.   This sadly isn’t me being melodramatic, this is a reality that Jane and Jan could be facing. But let’s let this little soap opera sit for a moment and get back to my discussion of DOMA, Windsor, and a recent case decided in Surrogate’s Court located in King’s County (Brooklyn), New York, which case on the one hand reinforces the beauty of the laws of the State of New York but simultaneously sets legal precedent protecting same-sex marriages on its head.  And many attorneys are deeply concerned about the ramifications of this case should it not be overturned on appeal or otherwise reversed.

As noted, notwithstanding Windsor, a decision which has marked a rapid and wonderful shift toward recognition of marriage equality, Section 2 of DOMA is still valid law (and likely to remain so due to issues related to federalism, a concept which far exceeds the scope of this blog), and permits states to refuse to recognize same-sex parental rights even where a parent’s name is listed on a child’s birth certificate.  This is true in our little soap opera, and a state could rely on this provision of DOMA to refuse to recognize Jan’s parental rights.  Thus, up until this new case from the Brooklyn Surrogate’s Court, in light of Section 2 of DOMA and the variety of state laws as they apply to same-sex marriages, most attorneys (including yours truly) would have advised Jan to enter into a second-parent adoption and obtain a court order or other judgment establishing her to be Jack’s legal parent.  Under the Full Faith and Credit provision of the United State’s Constitution, that “Order of Adoption” must be recognized everywhere — even in the face of section 2 of DOMA — and Jan could use that Order to ensure she has the ability to make that medical decision for little Jack in our soap opera.  The second-parent adoption proceeding and the recognition afforded to that Order of Adoption gives Jan and our little soap opera a happy ending (assuming everyone recovers from the horrific hypothetical car accident).

However, this recent decision from the court in Brooklyn, In the Matter of Seb C-M (NYLJ 1202640083455, Surr. Ct. King’s County Jan. 6, 2014), recently held that a woman in Jan’s position is precluded from entering into that second-parent adoption because her name already is on Jack’s birth certificate and she was married to Jack’s birth/biological mother at the time he was born.  Under New York law, says this Judge, Jan is Jack’s mom and there is no need for Jan to take any steps to ensure that her rights as Jack’s mother are recognized in other jurisdictions, even those that don’t recognize same-sex marriage.  This opinion thus denies Jan, and women and men in Jan’s position, the ability to obtain the one document that most legal practitioners feel would protect Jan’s ability to exercise parental rights in our nightmare soap opera hypothetical.

Why did the Judge decide this?  Well in part because she’s right.  Under New York law, Jan is Jack’s parent and no further steps are needed in New York for her rights as a parent to be recognized.  Marriage decrees and birth certificates are enough under the eyes and laws of the State of New York that nothing more need be done to enforce the rights of this family.  They are a family.  Period.  Nothing more need be said.  Valid marriage + valid birth certificate = family regardless of your sexual orientation.   That is, in and of itself, a wonderful statement and recognition of how far New York has come in recognizing marriage equality and the rights of same-sex parents.  However, as well-intended as this Judge was, and while her legal argument is correct with respect to the laws of the State of New York, the decision totally ignores the impact of Section 2 of DOMA, and ignores well-settled case law regarding the Full Faith and Credit provision mentioned above.  In holding that Jan cannot enter in a second-parent adoption because she already is legally a mother, the decision potentially eviscerates Jan’s parental rights and those of other same-sex parents when they are outside the borders of New York.  While I applaud this Judge for upholding the laws of the State of New York and recognizing that Jan is a parent from day-one regardless of the fact that she has no genetic connection to Jack, and regardless of the fact that she is in a same-sex marriage, it is somewhat arrogant to assume the laws of New York are so superior to the laws of other states that, in the face of a well-recognized danger presented by disparity in laws as they apply to marriage equality throughout the United States, and the enforceability of a federal statute that expressly permits states to reject Jane and Jan as a married couple, New York law is sufficient in all circumstances to protect this couple and their child.  Simply said, the laws of the State of New York do not protect this family everywhere they may travel and second-parent adoptions have historically been identified as a means by which a parent in a same-sex marriage can protect and enforce their parent-child relationship outside of the State of New York.

For the Judge in Seb C-M, a compelling fact in denying the second-parent adoption was that Jan already was on Jack’s birth certificate (keeping it simple by keeping the characters in our melodrama consistent, the people in the case of course have different names).  The Judge seemed to feel the birth certificate and presumptions surrounding birth certificates as codified in New York statutes and set forth in case law, are sufficiently strong to carry Jan safely into other jurisdictions.  This is a legal argument called “portability”.  Indeed, there is a relatively significant body of law that addresses the “portability” of birth certificates with respect to same-sex marriages.  To quote another groundbreaking case from New York, In re Sebastian, a case which pre-dates Seb C-M, the Judge in Seb C-M, ironically like other judges before her, “apparently was not concerned with issues of portability.”  In re Sebastian, 25 Misc.3d 567, 572 (Surr. Ct. N.Y. County 2009)(citations omitted).

Sebastian is another case that explores in detail the rights of same-sex parents who are married, have a child, and wish to protect the non-genetic parent’s rights in jurisdictions which do not recognize same-sex marriage.  Indeed, Sebastian sets forth a detailed analysis of the “portability” of birth certificates and indeed, of Jane’s and Jan’s rights as parents.  The Court in Sebastian ultimately concluded that in order to protect someone like Jan, she would need to enter into a second-parent adoption as that is the only type of legal/court document that would have to be recognized in states which don’t recognize same-sex marriage.  Sebastian provided the necessary protection to same-sex couples which the court in Seb C-M has just taken away.  Here is what the Court said in Sebastian (in Sebastian, Mona stands in the same shoes as does Jan in our soap opera, and Ingrid is Jane):

“[A]s the child of a married couple, Sebastian already has a recognized and protected child/parent relationship with both Ingrid and Mona, arguably making adoption unnecessary and impermissibly duplicative. . . Unfortunately, while this is the case in New York, the same recognition and protection of Mona’s parental rights does not currently exist in the rest of this country, or in most other nations in the world. For this reason, the parties argue that only an order of adoption would ensure the portability of Sebastian’s parentage, and further ensure that the federal government and other states would recognize Mona as Sebastian’s legal parent.”

Sebastian at page 573.

Analyzing DOMA and presumptions of parenthood afforded by birth certificates and thus their portability among states, the Court in Sebastian further noted that:

“[A] marriage validly contracted in another state need not be accorded recognition if that marriage runs afoul of the forum state’s public policy. Currently there are explicit prohibitions against same-sex marriages in [many] states . . . these clear legislative statements of public policy would appear to permit courts of those states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages contracted elsewhere, and, arguably, also to legal rights flowing from those marriages, including presumptive parenthood. . . . Such a position is supported by DOMA, a 1996 Congressional enactment that . . . appears to allow the states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages validly contracted elsewhere. . . .  A holding by this court that Mona is already a legal parent . . .  in this state may therefore offer insufficient protection in other states . . . just as DOMA itself precludes [recognition] based on marital status to same sex couples. Thus . . .  adoption is the sole means by which their parent/child relationship and the ‘rights and obligations incident thereto’ can be fully protected.”

Sebastian at pages 575-76 (emphasis added).

 

Another of the arguments on which the Court in Seb C-M relied in denying the second parent adoption is the strong presumption of parenthood New York laws afford to a child born during a marriage as reflected on a birth certificate.  The Court cited this as one of the “strongest and most persuasive [presumptions] known to the law.”  Seb C-M at page 2.  However, just because New York recognizes this presumption in favor of same sex marriages, does not mandate that presumption also be recognized in other jurisdictions.  Indeed, Sebastian is clear that the laws of other states do not need to recognize that presumption:  According to Sebastian:

“[a] birth certificate is . . . only prima facie evidence of parentage . . . and does not, in and of itself, confer parental rights that must be recognized elsewhere. Accordingly, although the parties here may obtain a . . . birth certificate by virtue of their marriage, that birth certificate alone, without some judicial determination of Mona’s parentage would provide insufficient protection of Mona’s parental rights.”

Sebastian at page 576 (emphasis added).

If the New York birth certificate potentially is  insufficient to recognize or enforce Jan’s parental rights, what is she to do in order to ensure her relationship to little Jack is protected in our soap opera, or in the event Jane and Jan were to move?  Sebastian addressed this concern noting that:

“[t]he parties’ argument for an adoption here is based on their desire to have a determination of parentage that will be recognized everywhere, as opposed to one that other jurisdictions may be free to disregard. Although there is no Supreme Court decision on point, federal courts that have considered the issue have held that a judicial order of adoption in one state must be afforded full faith and credit in every other state, and that there can be no “public policy” exception to that mandatory recognition  . . .”

Sebastian at page 584.

The Court in Sebastian concluded that although Sebastian’s genetic mother had other potential legal avenues to establish her parental rights — avenues which are now firmly established in New York and form the foundation of the decision in Seb C-M, only an Order of Adoption would provide protection to a same-sex family outside of New York due to its entitlement to full faith and credit.  Sebastian at page 587.

“And, although it is also true that an adoption should be unnecessary because Sebastian was born to parents whose marriage is legally recognized in [New York], the best interests of this child require a judgment that will ensure recognition of both Ingrid and Mona as his legal parents throughout the entire United States.”

Sebastian at page 587.

So we are now left with the decision in Seb C-M which has denied a parent the right to establish her relationship with her child in a manner that will be protected outside the borders of New York, that fails to make her child’s birth certificate “portable” and her legal parent-child relationship firmly established in the eyes of the law throughout the United States.  This decision is at odds with the well-reasoned opinion set forth in Sebastian, which decision remains consistent with the principles and issues still presented by Section 2 of DOMA.  The Judge in Seb C-M was not unsympathetic to the plight of our friend Jan, and recognized that she left Jan at risk of facing a situation where her parental rights might not be recognized.  The Judge felt, however, that those rights should be addressed in the jurisdiction that denies the rights (see footnote 2 of the opinion).   Rather than  upholding the protective approach as set forth in Sebastian, In the Matter of Seb C-M, leaves Jan to fight with a judge over Jan’s constitutional rights and marriage equality in a jurisdiction which is inherently hostile to her and her family; and she has left Jan to do this in a potentially time-sensitive situation as that set forth in our soap opera drama of a hypothetical.

While New York has come a long way in recognition of same-sex relationships and In the Matter of Seb C-M is a recognition of those advancements, the decision leaves same-sex couples at risk in other jurisdictions.  New York’s laws are (unfortunately) not superior to those of other states, certainly not when there is a statute like DOMA which allows another state to deny the rights New York provides to the LGBT community.  While I applaud this decision in its recognition of New York’s stance on same-sex marriage and recognition of same-sex families, it presents a potentially disastrous outcome by denying protections currently recognized under New York law, which protections are recognized and enforceable in other jurisdictions.  In the Matter of Seb C-M applies a misinterpretation of the decision in Windsor  (or seemingly fails to acknowledge that Section 2 of Doma was not overturned), and fails to recognize the significant limitations that remain embodied in Section 2 of DOMA relative to the existing framework of the rights of same-sex parents.  Even more, the Judge’s statement in Seb C-M that any state which fails to recognize same-sex marriages and families is equally likely to deny full faith and credit to adoption decrees from New York, overlooks the detailed analysis of these issues as set forth in Sebastian and an existing body of enforceable case law regarding the application of Full Faith and Credit to Orders of Adoption.

The question is whether these misinterpretations and overlooked or misapplied body of case law will result in an appeal of the decision in Seb C-M?  In endeavoring to recognize the advancements of the rights of same-sex parents in New York, this case has fallen short of protecting those rights, especially in light of the provisions of DOMA which remain intact even after the Windsor decision.  While the Judge In the Matter of Seb C-M strives to make the rights of same-sex couples more enforceable, the ultimate outcome of the decision is to deny protections to same-sex families which ensure they are enforceable in places other than the State of New York.  Is it not better to have a family that can be protected and recognized throughout the United States as provided by In re Sebastian, rather than one which can only be recognized within the State of New York as provided in In the Matter of Seb C-M?  And more importantly, if Sebastian is authoritative case law, insofar as In the Matter of Seb C-M, contradicts Sebastian on so many points, is the decision In the Matter of Seb C-M not wrong as a matter of law?

 

 

 

This blog represents the opinions of the author and are not intended to provide legal advice.

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The painful silence of recurrent pregnancy loss and stillbirth. A first hand perspective and perhaps finally, a voice.

February 15, 2013 | By: | Filed under: Current Affairs, Deadly Silence, Faith and Infertility, infertility in the media, Infertility In The Movies etc., Infertility on Television, IVF, Miscarriage, Peace to Parenthood, Personal Musings, Recurrent Pregnancy Loss, Stillbirth, The Journey to Parenthood, Thinking Out Loud, Third-Party Assisted Reproduction

The shrowd of silence around stillbirth and pregnancy loss finally is being lifted.  Someone is making a documentary about miscarriage, recurrent pregnancy loss, and stillbirth.  This morning I watched the trailer of “Still”  a documentary devoted to raising awareness of the pain of the loss of a pregnancy, a child born too soon, or a stillbirth.  I think “Still” may focus more on stillbirth or pre-term delivery, but some of the articles I read as I researched its production indicated that the documentary intends to address recurrent pregnancy loss and/or miscarriage more than is touched upon in this trailer.

As I watched the trailer I was reminded of a long call I had with a new client this week.  It is rare that I have a client who has a similar background to my own experience with infertility.  Like me she has experienced 12 unexplained pregnancy losses (although I sort of stopped counting about a year ago when I went through it again . . . something about hitting the number 13 and I really decided it didn’t matter how many I had, I have had enough, one is enough).  Only in addition to experiencing a number of first term (non-chemical) pregnancy losses, my new client also lost pregnancies in the second trimester and near the beginning of the third trimester.  We had a lengthy conversation about how isolating it is, how lonely it is, how there is no person other than your partner or spouse who “gets it” (and even then sometimes perhaps they don’t totally get it because it isn’t their body), and how the silence that surrounds pregnancy loss can engulf one’s life, one’s existence.  Our call also reminded me of a blog I posted about a gravestone I once saw that marked the death of fetus.  As I commented in that blog, it wasn’t a pro-life stunt.  It was a family who had been given permission not only to mark the death of their baby while in utero (or loss of their pregnancy) but to recognize all those other families that have suffered the same pain.  In silence.

Reproductive medicine has provided so many advances to assist infertile couples in achieving their dreamed of family but recurrent pregnancy loss remains largely unexplained.  While theories abound, there are far too many of us who don’t know why this happens to us, repeatedly.  Reproductive medicine and reproductive law now give us the option of having our biological child carried by someone who is likely to deliver that child when we can’t.  Indeed, the option to use a surrogate after experiencing pregnancy loss is perhaps the driving force behind at least half of my clients who come to me to assist them with legal agreements as they begin their journey using a surrogate.   As is the case with the call and the client I just mentioned.

As many of you know, in the absence of an explanation of why my babies die, I was too frightened that a surrogate might lose my child.  I couldn’t ask another woman to risk experiencing the pain I have dealt with so many times.  Adoption was always something my husband and I had wanted to pursue so when we were faced with the [dreaded] conversation where our doctor told us we were out of options other than surrogacy or adoption, it was a no-brainer for us.  It was going to be adoption.  And as one of the women in the trailer for “Still” points out, I wouldn’t turn back the clock or make different decisions; because without those pregnancy losses I wouldn’t be parenting the two beautiful children I have now.  I cannot imagine a life without these particular little souls in it.  It seems like a heartbreaking price to pay but as I told my new client, one day when this is all over and you are holding your baby in your arms, it will make sense and you will know that but for all that came before (all 12 of those horrendously difficult pregnancy losses) this little baby wouldn’t be yours.

But as she journeys toward that day where she hopefully does feel that sense of peace and gratitude for the child in her arms, she is left with a huge void.  She has no one to talk to.  I had no one to talk to.  Even my best IVF friends didn’t understand how I felt.  Excuse me:  how I FEEL.  I still feel pain on a day that one of my longtime friend’s celebrates, the day she heard the heartbeat of each of the babies she was carrying.  I don’t begrudge her that joy.  I celebrate with her.  But for me, inside, it always is a reminder of the miscarriage that I experienced just a few days earlier.  My client and I share a special bond, one of knowing what each carries inside her and the thoughts that creep into our mind throughout the day.  Thoughts that largely go un-shared with anyone.

Will “Still” do justice to this topic, to this diagnosis, to the countless women and men who have endured the loss of a life growing inside them or one that came into the world far too early to survive?  I think so.  I hope so.  Because I would like nothing more than for women like me who are going through what I went through, women like my new client, to have a voice in the reproductive community.  To have doctors pay attention to our kind of infertility.  To have better resources and support groups.  To just plain have a voice to express their pain.  Amazing options for family building notwithstanding, the pain associated with recurrent pregnancy loss, miscarriage, and stillbirth shouldn’t continue to be shrouded in silence.

And so today I thank the people behind this documentary entitled “Still”.  THANK YOU for initiating a dialogue that is long overdue.

And one final note, to all those physicians who have dedicated their careers to exploring the mystery of recurrent pregnancy loss . . . THANK YOU.

 

If you would like to watch the trailer click here 

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The Bizarre World of Embryo Banking. Where My Motherhood and Morality Meet.

December 7, 2012 | By: | Filed under: adoption, Check This Out, Current Affairs, Egg Donation, Financing Fertility Treament or Adoption, In the News, IVF, known sperm donation, Personal Musings, The Journey to Parenthood, Third-Party Assisted Reproduction, Thoughts on Choosing an Egg Donor, Uncategorized

Every once in a while I have true conflicts between my self as a former infertility patient and my career as a reproductive lawyer and adoption attorney.  A couple of years ago, I wrote a law review article on the disposition of frozen embryos, and whether or not talking about embryo adoption was legally correct whether the better, more appropriate terminology was/is embryo donation.  There are hundreds of thousands of frozen embryos in cryopreservation in this country where the intended parents of those embryos no longer wish to use the embryos for their own family building.  These embryos are often referred to as “leftovers” a term which somewhat disturbs me but is strictly speaking, accurate.  These embryos are “leftover”, after a family was created through IVF and now remain in a state of frozen suspension.  Many of those embryos could be used to help build another family, and be donated to an infertile couple.  There was some confusion as to whether these embryos should be placed for adoption or donated in a similar manner to egg and sperm donation and I wanted to resolve that confusion — at least for myself.  I ultimately drew the legal conclusion that the term embryo adoption isn’t really accurate because there isn’t a human being to adopt.  I could go into a lengthy analysis of how I came to that conclusion but your eyes would roll back in your head and you would probably start drooling from boredom.  So let’s just defer that analysis and argument for another day.  If you are interested, you can get a copy of the article on the web (click here).  I now happen to be a huge advocate for embryo donation.  I think it is a fabulous way to build a family.  However, these are musings for another blog.  But my article did provide some clarity to those medical facilities which are banking those frozen “leftover” embryos.

So here I have been sitting happy as a woman with a barren uterus could ever be, contemplating my holiday shopping safe and secure in my belief in, and advocacy of embryo donation.  And then I hear about this doctor in California who has a new kind of embryo bank.

Before I heard of this physician in California, I was aware of only one type of embryo bank; one where frozen “leftover” embryos are being made available for donation to infertile families.  These frozen embryos were the subject of my law review article.  This new embryo bank, however, does not contain any of these “leftover” frozen embryos.  This bank is comprised of embryos which were recently created using carefully selected donor eggs and donor sperm.  The donated eggs are fertilized with the donated sperm and the resulting embryos are frozen for future selection by hopeful intended parents.  Let’s stop briefly and note emphasis on the words “future selection”.  We will circle back to why this is relevant but I wanted to point out that these embryos are being created for future selection by wanna-be-moms and dads.

This physician has created his embryo bank in a manner to facilitate selection for all types of characteristics — everything from physical traits like blond hair and blue eyes to religious ethnicity.  Jewish embryos, who knew?  Actually, this could be fantastic for Jewish couples who need a single Jewish egg donor, and/or want to further ensure a connection with Judaism by having a genetic connection on the sperm side of life.  You have no idea how hard it can be to find a specific ethnic donor and this is something I gather this doctor has identified as a plus to his business model.  Speaking of business models, he also offers a money back guarantee.  You choose a batch of embryos to use to try and get pregnant.  If you don’t get pregnant the first time, you get two more tries using different batches of embryos.  If you don’t get pregnant, you get 100% of your money back (approx. $12,000).

Upon hearing of this embryo bank a part of me was disgusted and a part of me . . .  well I was excited.  Super excited. Especially about the money back guarantee.

The infertility patient part of me sees this as a great opportunity to get pregnant.  Frozen embryo transfers — while statistically less successful than fresh embryo transfers — can be lot easier to go through than an IVF cycle.  For me having the embryos created using donor gametes isn’t a big deal.  But if it were, I would be able to select an embryo based on whatever I might deem important.   So, yeah baby!  Let’s have another baby!  Give me this doctor’s number.  I am in!  Or perhaps it would be better to say the embryos are [going to be] in [me]!

But the legal scholar, academic, intellectual, lawyer part of my brain is sitting here vomiting and is pissed that I am putting these thoughts onto cyber-paper and making an argument in favor of this horrific new kind of embryo bank.  Stork Lawyer Reality check:  It is pretty much illegal to create embryos without first having identified intended parents as recipients for those embryos and from what I understand, there are no intended parents waiting for those embryos when this doctor is creating them.  The intended parents don’t enter the picture until the embryos are selected from the database and someone signs up with this program to undergo an embryo transfer procedure.  This is where that whole “future selection” comes in.

The laws regarding assisted reproduction essentially come down to intent to parent before conception: in a third party assisted reproductive arrangement there is supposed to be a contract or other document signed before the embryos are created, whereby intended parent(s) agree to be legally and morally responsible for the embryos and children that may result from the ART process.  In this case there is no such contract or preexisting intended parent.  The embryos subject of my law review article all had intended parents before the egg and sperm came together to create the now frozen “leftover” embryo.  But this new type of embryo banking lacks that component.  There are no intended parents choosing the eggs and the sperm with the immediate intent to parent.

And speaking of all those “leftover” embryos shouldn’t we first be dealing with and using all the existing cryopreserved embryos before we go about creating them? And what about the potential that this doctor may be creating even more “leftover” frozen embryos (what happens to those embryos that don’t get selected)?

Let’s not analyze whether this is baby selling.  I can’t, or won’t go there, although many others have.  Consanguinity, or the risk of an individual created through donor gametes marrying or having a child with a genetic sibling is another issue that has been raised.  The number of families that are created using any individual egg or sperm donor’s genetic material is a concern not to be overlooked or ignored.  These donors presumably are also donating through egg donation agencies, fertility clinics or sperm or egg banks.  We all have been astonished by stories of men who have discovered that they have fathered over a 100 children as a result of their donation to sperm banks — there is a significant risk that through this new type of embryo banking program not only will children have multiple full siblings running around but that egg and sperm donors have created half siblings through other programs.

Even more, if I understand this program correctly (and I am pretty sure I do) batches of embryos are being created which contain embryos which are full siblings to embryos which are contained in other or separate batches of embryos.  It sounds like  it is possible that three separate donations could take place using these three batches of embryos.  Okay, follow-me slowly here for a minute because this is a little bit like playing Twister.  In other words,  three batches of embryos each of which contain embryos which are full genetic siblings to embryos in other batches, could be donated to three different families thereby creating three separate families whose children are all full genetic siblings to each other!

Do the recipients of these embryos know how many full genetic siblings their child may have?  Are the donors aware?

It is supposedly almost impossible from a statistical standpoint for one of these children to marry its full sibling.  But when you add in the half siblings that could be created through other donation programs, and/or smaller ethnic groups for whom donation can be a challenge because of the limited number of donors available matching their ethnicity, doesn’t the risk become somewhat more than insignificant?  And even if it doesn’t, I worry that people don’t have enough information about how many genetic siblings are out there whether they are full or half siblings.

But I get it, I get why he did it.  Especially for someone with an ethnic background this type of program would be hugely popular and let’s not forget the money back guarantee.  We’re all broke after trying IVF multiple times, why the heck not take out a second mortgage if you know you will be able to pay it back if you don’t get pregnant?  Sounds pretty good doesn’t it?

I am at war with myself.  I want to go running to that clinic and pick out an embryo tomorrow.  And then my lawyer (self) tells me to stop and think about whether I want to participate in, and thereby endorse a practice which I believe, in my own legal opinion, is legally impermissible, and legally and medically unethical.  Is my desire to be a gestational mother stronger than my moral center?  Good question.

 

 

The views expressed in this blog are the views and opinions of this author and are not intended to provide or constitute legal advice or a statement of the laws as they may pertain third-party assisted reproduction within the United States.

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When Infertility Professionals Get it Wrong.

September 18, 2012 | By: | Filed under: adoption, Current Affairs, Deadly Silence, Egg Donation, Faith and Infertility, I'm Just Another Angry Infertile Woman, In the News, infertility in the media, IVF, Personal Musings, The Journey to Parenthood, Thinking Out Loud, Thoughts on Choosing an Egg Donor, Thoughts on Donor Egg Recruitment

You know it’s not that often that I see glaringly offensive comments or information from professionals in the infertility world.  Most of us know to be very careful with the language we use so that we don’t inadvertently hurt someone’s feelings.  Today I was surfing Facebook and someone to whom I was connected (I am no longer “friends” with her) posted a comment about egg donation, adoption, and infertility.  I thought at first she was referring to a blog and was hoping she was quoting someone else.  Alas, I was very wrong and the link she posted was to an egg donation agency based outside of the United States (thank goodness for that — didn’t want to be running into her at any upcoming conferences lest I let her have it to her face) and the post was pretty much designed to bring attention to her agency.  I am not a big believer in the old adage that any attention is good attention or that negative publicity is still publicity.  In this industry, offending people is the kiss of death and well let’s just say I’ve been kissed.

I really don’t like the word “barren”.  It’s an ancient reference to women who were unable to conceive and it dates back to a time period when women had no rights and would sometimes be replaced by another woman if she was unable to conceive a child.  The Sixteenth Century this is not and I would have hoped that in the Twenty-First Century we would be a little bit more aware of appropriate terminology.  I guess not because this FB poster (who shall remain nameless even upon kiss of death) seemed to think that all women who are having difficulty conceiving should be considered BARREN.

I don’t think so.  Having difficulty conceiving does not mean we are barren.  The word barren actually has many definitions (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/barren ) including “lacking inspiration” or “lacking charm”.  For the record, I don’t consider any of my infertile clients, and certainly not my own bod, to be lacking in charm.  Some of my clients are downright amazingly gorgeous women with incredible resumes and great personalities.  In this case they are hardly barren are they?  They also usually go on to become mothers which would seem to indicate that they are in fact capable of producing offspring (please note Miriam-Webster dictionary says nothing about those offspring needing to be biological children — at least its editors “get it”).  But the word was used nonetheless in this FB post.  The fact that the post tried to be “neutral” and present all sides of debates as they pertain to third-party assisted reproduction was totally lost on me by virtue of the selection of this word to describe me.  Because that is who she is describing, me.  The last time I checked I am still considered to be infertile.

The other problem was that this poster and her choice of words — and barren was by far the least offensive of them — revealed her own underlying belief that women who have difficulty conceiving, women like me who are infertile, are somehow lacking, less than other women, and are desperate.  While she notes that “an element of respect” should be offered to these women, in and of itself that remark too is offensive.  I am only entitled to “an element of respect”.  7 IVF Cycles, 9+ miscarriages (I stopped counting but there were more), three adoptions, and I am only entitled to “an element of respect”.  Seriously?

Additional comments were made about whether decisions to use an egg donor were interfering with the “divine plan” for that woman’s life; and that what transpired to finally bring this barren woman to the point of actually considering using another’s genetic material could only be understood by the woman herself.  Here I do agree with the post.  However, I would prefer that she had not characterized the decision to choose egg donation as an act of finality, desperation, or somehow jumping off of the cliff of normalcy.  Families are built in countless ways and all of them are normal.  

Egg donors also were attacked for their decision to share themselves with other people.  Let’s be clear that egg donation does not involve any kind of “sharing”.  Egg donation agreements are clear that when a woman donates her eggs she relinquishes all rights to the resulting embryos and/or children.  Egg donors do not share in the day-to-day life of the intended parents’ pregnancy, or their life as they raise their child.  And let’s place the emphasis where it belongs, on “their” child, not the egg donor’s child.  If this woman is counseling egg donors — and I fear she may be — then she is sending the wrong message to these selfless and generous women who donate their genetic material, their ova, to an infertile couple.  They ain’t sharing those eggs or themselves with anyone.

Let’s not even discuss the offensive descriptions attributed to adoption.  I will have a stroke.

I understand that this woman was trying to raise a debate, trying to draw attention to her business and what she does.  But the choice of words she used as a professional in this industry was astonishingly rude and clearly revealed her own underlying biases.  She is entitled to those biases.  But as a professional she had a responsibility to keep them private and not mislead egg donors or intended parents.  I also think it was a poor decision to use such inflammatory language if she was trying to promote her business.  In all likelihood she sent potential clients running in the opposite direction.

I hope that the other people who read this post are wearing running shoes; they need to run as fast as possible.  Most likely the very charming, inspirational women who read this post pulled their flats or sneaks out of their gym bag and took off their Jimmy Choo’s, and headed in the direction of a more sensitive egg donation/surrogacy agency, a therapist (I may need a session), shopping (in which case maybe they should leave on the Jimmy Choo’s), or a glass of wine and some Oreos.  

For all those who read that post and felt in any way diminished as a human being because of their infertility, let’s get one thing straight:  anyone who can get through this stuff is one tough, rockin’ mama.  Emphasis on the word “mama” because that is what you will one day be called.

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A Book on Adoption By Emily Giffin — and i’m too scared to read it!

July 30, 2012 | By: | Filed under: adoption

Everyone who knows me, really knows me, knows I am sucker for all things Emily Giffin (I mean we have sooo much in common . . . you do know I said that tongue in cheek right?  although the similarities in our lives, associate in a big law firm turned author of best selling book . . . although admittedly she’s had slightly better publishing success than I), and that I like Danielle Steel too.  There I have outed myself.  Chic lit and romance novels are my thing.

But Emily Giffin’s new book, Where we Belong, has adoption and reunion of birth mother and adoptee as it it’s theme.  I respect Ms. Giffin tremendously.  She did a fantastic job addressing infertility and child bearing in Baby Proof as noted in a previous blog; and I understand from discussions with colleagues that Ms. Giffin interviewed reproductive lawyers and perhaps other professionals in the world of ART in order to properly address issues of infertility in Baby Proof.  So I’m guessing that she probably did a really good job researching adoption and is nothing but politically correct, sensitive and thoughtful when writing about this very delicate topic.  (If it’s okay by you, I’m just going to call her Emily.  She is after all my soul sister.)  I see on Emily’s FaceBook page that people are asking her if she will do a sequel so it must be good.  But are any of those people who are asking for a sequel part of an adoption triad or an adoption professional????

I have read so many books and articles that are written by people with good intentions but nonetheless totally botch the job when it comes to adoption language and/or addressing the emotions and feelings that come up for people in adoption triads.  I won’t mention the titles here — why bad mouth a book you might enjoy — but I have had to put a couple of them down and just agree to disagree with the author.  Anyone who knows me also knows that once I start a book I HAVE to finish it no matter how bad or boring is the tombe.  I am that anal that I will force myself, yes force myself, to finish something I hate.  Even on a beach on a vacation, I will force myself to gut through the last few pages of a book which I think is really awful.  So I am very careful these days about what I will read.  Knowing that I am committed from start to finish I only can choose books that I feel will truly entertain or enlighten.  And thus, I do my research and read reviews and blogs (and FaceBook pages) to see what people think.  So far, Where We Belong gets amazing reviews.  And yet, I won’t download it to my tablet or buy it  . . . what’s up with that?

I guess I am really afraid that Emily will hurt me or bring up emotions that I would rather not face.  I am after all, an adoptive mother and one who feels very strongly about the use of positive adoption language and who wishes that adoption came without bittersweet feelings or even shall we say, threatening feelings.  I worry about legislation that will open adoption records that currently are sealed and thus create a greater potential for dramas like the one portrayed in Where We Belong to unfold for my friends.  (btw, I “get” both sides of the argument to open adoption records, and while I have my own opinion on this topic I do respect those who don’t share it, so please don’t spam me on this particular topic, I leave this up to legislators and their constituents to figure out whether it’s right or wrong, good or bad).

I also really care about the birth mothers I have represented and knowing what they go through, I can only imagine how they would feel — especially those who wanted a closed adoption or less contact with the adoptive family — if one day the child they placed for adoption knocked on their proverbial door.

And please let’s also be clear, I hate the term “gave up for adoption” . . . this term runs rampant throughout reviews of Emily’s book so I am worried she uses it IN the book.  Please remember that this is a decision someone makes and it is NOT an easy decision for anyone.  Birth mothers have “placed” their child for adoption, a term which hopefully is more respectful of their decision to enter into an adoption, as opposed to “gave up” or “give away” which makes it sound like babies are a commodity and birth mothers don’t care about what happens to their baby.  “Gee, I think I’ll just give this baby away today . . . ”  I think NOT.  I hate this terminology and while I never know what is right or wrong and often worry about what words I use with my own clients and in my family, I really don’t think this one particular term is respectful to birth mothers.

And as I have recently discovered it’s not even politically correct to call my clients who are considering making an adoption plan for their baby, a birth mother.  These women now request or prefer to be called “emoms”.  An emom is a woman who is expecting a baby and is considering placing her baby for adoption.  I would strongly suspect that emoms don’t consider what they are thinking about doing (emphasis here on thinking) to be “giving up” or “giving away” . . .  This is such a highly charged issue with advocates for both terms that I suspect just by talking about this language I am going to get a ton of hate email.

And I have already upset myself thinking about adoption language and whether Emily used it appropriately . . . As a result of my discussion of terminology I have relived allot of what my own family, and our adoption triads, have gone through, as well as some of the adoptions my office has handled . . . I can’t even write a blog about this topic without getting myself upset and disjointed, so how am I going to do reading this book?  And I HAVE to finish it if I start it . . . And yes, I know that’s ridiculous and nutty and if I don’t like a book I should put it down, but that’s just not ME people.  I am nothing if not thorough (and loyal) right through to the end.

F*&^k.  I love Emily’s work and I feel I have a professional obligation to read and review this book.  And yet I am scared sh!tless at the thought of reading it.  But read it I must.  Right? Wrong?

Crap.  What to do . . . stay tuned.

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