Court weighs in on embryos

An Illinois judge cleared the way for a couple to sue a Chicago fertility clinic for wrongful death after clinic workers accidentally disposed of a healthy embryo.

Mar 14, 2005
Edward Winnick
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Courtesy of Center for Reproductive Medicine at West Virginia University

An Illinois judge cleared the way for a couple to sue a Chicago fertility clinic for wrongful death after clinic workers accidentally disposed of a healthy embryo. The case raises concerns about its implications for in vitro fertilization and reproductive rights. However, legal experts don't expect the ruling to stand up on appeal or to have much of an effect on stem cell research.

In February, Judge Jeffrey Lawrence II of the Circuit Court of Cook County (Ill) said that a "pre-embryo is a human being" whether or not it is implanted in the mother's womb, and ruled that the parents of the embryo could seek compensation for wrongful death.

"I think people are overreacting to it," says John Robertson, a professor at the University of Texas School of Law at Austin and chair of the ethics committee of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Laurie Zoloth, a bioethics professor at Northwestern University in Chicago and a member of the board of directors for the International Society for Stem Cell Research, agrees that the court's decision is unlikely to stand. "It would be a tragedy if it did," Zoloth says. "It would threaten not only emerging stem cell research, but research on fertility, too."