|||SUPERIOR COURT OF NEW JERSEY APPELLATE DIVISION
|||DOCKET NO. A-1544-98T3
|||June 1, 2000
|||Eric S. Spevak, Andrew L. Rochester and Richard M. Chiumento argued the
cause for appellant (Adinolfi & Spevak, attorneys; Mr. Rochester, Mr.
Chiumento and Sandra E. Yampell, on the briefs). James Katz argued the cause
for respondent (Sagot, Jennings & Sigmond, attorneys; Mr. Katz, on the
brief). Lenora M. Lapidus argued the cause for amici curiae American Civil
Liberties Union of New Jersey Foundation, American Society for Reproductive
Medicine, and Resolve (Ms. Lapidus and Laura M. Le Winn, on the joint brief).
Russell J. Passamano & Associates, attorneys for amicus curiae LifeNet,
Inc. (Russell J. Passamano, on the brief).
|||Before Judges D'Annunzio, Newman and Fall.
|||The opinion of the court was delivered by: D'annunzio, J.A.D.
|||Argued March 28, 2000 - Decided June 1, 2000
|||On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Chancery Division, Family
Part, Camden County.
|||At issue is the post-divorce disposition of frozen human embryos.*fn1
The trial court ruled in favor of the wife, who seeks their destruction.
The husband wants to preserve them for use, either with a woman with whom
he develops a relationship or for donation to an infertile couple. The husband
appeals the trial court's grant of summary judgment, and we affirm.
|||The parties were married in February 1992. Their efforts to have a child
were unsuccessful. It was stipulated that their reproductive problems "derived
from [the wife's] endometriosis and were due to blockage in one of [her]
fallopian tubes." The husband's sperm count was normal, and no infertility
problems were attributable to him.
|||The parties decided to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) in an attempt
to conceive and bear a child. To that end they contracted with the Cooper
Center for In Vitro Fertilization, P.C. (Cooper). IVF, in simple terms,
involves the artificial stimulation of egg production in the female, removal
of the eggs and their fertilization in a petri dish by the male's sperm.
The fertilized egg is then implanted in the womb. Extra embryos, whose structure
does not exceed eight cells, are frozen for future use in the event the
initial implantation is unsuccessful. Cooper's consent form describes the
|||IVF will be accomplished in a routine fashion: that is, ovulation induction
followed by egg recovery, insemination, fertilization, embryo development
and embryo transfer of up to three or four embryos in the stimulated cycle.
With the couple's consent, any "extra" embryos beyond three or
four will be cryopreserved according to our freezing protocol and stored
at -196 C. Extra embryos, upon thawing, must meet certain criteria for viability
before being considered eligible for transfer. These criteria require that
a certain minimum number of cells composing the embryo survive the freeze-thaw
process. These extra embryos will be transferred into the woman's uterus
in one or more future menstrual cycles for the purpose of establishing a
normal pregnancy. The physicians and embryologists on the IVF team will
be responsible for determining the appropriate biological conditions and
the timing for transfers of cryopreserved embryos. The control and disposition
of the embryos belongs to the Patient and her Partner. You will be asked
to execute the attached legal statement regarding control and disposition
of cryopreserved embryos. The IVF team will not be obligated to proceed
with the transfer of any cryopreserved embryos if experience indicates that
the risks outweigh the benefits.
|||During the IVF treatment, the wife became pregnant. Whether it was the
result of implantation of an in vitro fertilized embryo or through intercourse
is not clear from this record. In any event, the wife delivered a "healthy
baby girl" in March 1996. The parties separated on September 20, 1996,
and a judgment of divorce was entered on November 6, 1998. It incorporated
a property settlement agreement, but reserved "a decision concerning
the parties' cryopreserved preembryos/ embryos."
|||Thereafter, the wife moved for summary judgment. She certified that she
had agreed to the IVF procedure to establish a family in the context of
|||Defendant and I made the decision to attempt conception through in vitro
fertilization treatment. Those decisions were made during a time when defendant
and I were married and intended to remain married. Defendant and I planned
to raise a family together as a married couple. I endured the in vitro process
and agreed to preserve the preembryos for our use in the context of an intact
|||The wife stated that she no longer wanted the embryos implanted in her,
did not want defendant to retain them for his own use, and did not want
them donated to anyone else.
|||In his certification, the husband alleged that the wife had agreed to
donate unused embryos to infertile couples. He certified that In fact, the
option to donate them to infertile couples was the Plaintiff's idea. She
came up with this idea because she knew of other individuals in her work
place who were having trouble conceiving.
|||Certifications by the husband's mother, father and sister corroborated
the husband's assertion that the wife had agreed to donate the embryos and
had offered them to the husband's childless sister.*fn2
|||The parties signed an agreement with Cooper which anticipated changed
circumstances such as divorce. It provided:
|||I, ________ (Patient) and _________ (Partner)
|||agree that all control, direction and ownership of our tissues will be
relinquished to the IVF Program under the following circumstances:
|||1.A dissolution of our marriage by court order, unless the court specifies
who takes control and direction of the tissues, or
|||2. In the event of death of both of the above named individuals, or unless
provisions are made in a Will, or
|||3. When the patient is no longer capable of sustaining a normal pregnancy,
however, the couple has the right to keep embryos maintained for up to two
years before making a decision [regarding a] "host womb" or
|||4. At any time by our/my election which shall be in writing, or
|||5. When a patient fails to pay periodic embryo maintenance payment. [Emphasis
|||The trial judge determined that the parties engaged in IVF to create their
child within the context of their marriage. He noted that they achieved
their goal, perhaps through intercourse, and they were no longer married.
Therefore, according to the trial judge, the reason for the creation and
preservation of embryos no longer applied. The judge also relied on the
fact that the husband was capable of fathering children in another relationship.
|||The trial judge's ruling appears to make a finding of fact inconsistent
with the husband's position that the wife had agreed to donate unneeded
embryos. The husband's core contention on appeal is that a trial was necessary
to establish a record, including the parameters of the parties' understanding
regarding disposition of the embryos. The husband also argues that the ruling
violated his constitutional rights, including his rights to procreate, to
due process and to equal protection of the law.
|||We are aware of three reported appellate decisions regarding the disposition
of cryopreserved embryos. The first in time is Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d
588 (Tenn. 1992), cert. denied, 507 U.S. 911, 113 S. Ct. 1259, 122 L. Ed.
2d 657 (1993), involving disposition of seven frozen embryos in the context
of a divorce. Initially, Mary Sue Davis sought to use the embryos in an
effort to become pregnant. Her former husband, Junior Davis, objected on
the ground "that he preferred to leave the embryos in their frozen
state until he decided whether or not he wanted to become a parent outside
the bounds of marriage." Id. at 589.
|||The trial court awarded "custody" of the embryos to Mary Sue
Davis for implantation. The intermediate appellate court reversed on the
ground that Junior Davis had a constitutional right not to beget a child.
It vested "'joint control . . . and equal voice over their disposition'"
to the parties. Ibid.
|||The Tennessee Supreme Court granted review. It noted that each party had
modified their positions. Both had remarried. Mary Sue wanted to donate
the embryos to a childless couple; Junior sought their destruction. Id.
at 590. The court also noted the absence of a written agreement controlling
disposition and the lack of an applicable statute. Ibid.
|||The Tennessee Supreme Court ruled that "preembryos are not, strictly
speaking, either 'persons' or 'property,' but occupy an interim category
that entitles them to special respect because of their potential for human
life." Id. at 597. The court concluded that Mary Sue and Junior "have
decision-making authority concerning disposition of the preembryos, within
the scope of policy set by law." Ibid.
|||In dictum, the court concluded that any agreement regarding disposition
of preembryos "should be presumed valid and should be enforced as between
the progenitors." Ibid. As previously indicated, however, the parties
had no disposition agreement, and the court refused to decide the case based
on principles of implied contract. Id. at 598. The court also rejected the
intermediate appellate court's effective grant of veto power to Junior Davis,
who theoretically could prevent transfer of the embryos until they were
no longer viable. Ibid.
|||The court recognized that "the right to procreational autonomy is
composed of two rights of equal significance -- the right to procreate and
the right to avoid procreation." Id. at 601. It ruled that "the
state's interest in the potential life of these preembryos is not sufficient
to justify any infringement upon the freedom of these individuals to make
their own decisions as to whether to allow a process to continue that may
result in such a dramatic change in their lives as becoming parents."
Id. at 602.
|||Finally, the court resolved the conflict between Mary Sue and Junior through
a balancing of interests. The court determined that gestation of the preembryos
"would impose unwanted parenthood on [Junior], with all of its possible
financial and psychological consequences." Id. at 603. This impact,
the court ruled, outweighed the impact on Mary Sue's interest in donating
the preembryos. The court concluded that "Mary Sue Davis's interest
in donation is not as significant as the interest Junior Davis has in avoiding
parenthood. If she were allowed to donate these preembryos, he would face
a lifetime of either wondering about his parental status or knowing about
his parental status but having no control over it." Id. at 604.
|||Kass v. Kass, 696 N.E.2d 174 (N.Y. 1998), also involved post-divorce disposition
of a couple's frozen embryos. Previous efforts at IVF failed and the parties
divorced. Despite the previous failures, the wife sought to use the embryos
for implantation, but the husband objected. The trial court "granted
appellant [wife] custody of the pre-zygotes and directed her to exercise
her right to implant them within a medically reasonable time." Id.
at 177. The trial court reasoned that a female progenitor has "exclusive
decisional authority over the fertilized eggs . . . just as a pregnant woman
has exclusive decisional authority over a nonviable fetus." Ibid.
|||The Appellate Division reversed. The five-justice panel unanimously recognized
that the parties' agreement regarding disposition of unused fertilized eggs
should control. Ibid. The panel, however, disagreed regarding the clarity
of the parties' disposition agreement. A plurality found that the agreement
the parties had signed "unambiguously indicated the parties' desire
to donate the pre-zygotes for research purposes if the couple could not
reach a joint decision regarding disposition." Ibid.
|||The Court of Appeals affirmed, holding that the parties' "clearly
expressed" intent to donate the embryos for research purposes would
be enforced. Id. at 178. The Court of Appeals emphasized the need for agreements
between progenitors regarding disposition of unused embryos and held that
such agreements "should generally be presumed valid and binding, and
enforced in any dispute between them." Id. at 180 (citations omitted).
|||The most recent appellate decision regarding the disposition of frozen
embryos is A.Z. v. B.Z., 725 N.E.2d 1051 (Mass. 2000). It involved the familiar
pattern of IVF resulting in unused frozen embryos, followed by a divorce.
There, however, the 1991 IVF resulted in the birth of twins. Id. at 1053.
Moreover, the consent forms, signed by the husband in blank, had been completed
by the wife to provide that on the donors' separation the embryos were to
be given to the wife for implantation. Id. at 1054. The trial court, at
the husband's request, had permanently enjoined the wife "from utilizing"
the frozen embryos. Id. at 1054-55.
|||The Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts affirmed. The court determined
that the consent form was not binding "[i]n view of the purpose of
the form (drafted by and to give assistance to the clinic) and the circumstances
of execution." Id. at 1056. One of those circumstances was the husband's
execution of the consent forms in blank. The court, therefore, doubted that
the form represented the parties' intent in the event of a dispute between
them. Id. at 1056-57.
|||Nevertheless, the court addressed and rejected the enforceability of such
|||With this said, we conclude that, even had the husband and the wife entered
into an unambiguous agreement between themselves regarding the disposition
of the frozen preembryos, we would not enforce an agreement that would compel
one donor to become a parent against his or her will. As a matter of public
policy, we conclude that forced procreation is not an area amenable to judicial
enforcement. It is well established that courts will not enforce contracts
that violate public policy. [Id. at 1057-58 (citations omitted).]
|||The court relied on certain Massachusetts statutes and judicial decisions
from which it "gleaned" that "agreements to enter into familial
relationships (marriage or parenthood) should not be enforced against individuals
who subsequently reconsider their decisions." Id. at 1059.
|||Disputes regarding the disposition of reproductive biological material
can arise in a rich variety of contexts and circumstances. In this opinion
we address and decide only the case before us involving an attempt to enforce
an alleged agreement to use embryos to create a child.
|||Two fundamental rights of constitutional dimension are the right to procreate
and the right not to procreate. Skinner v. Oklahoma, 316 U.S. 535, 541,
62 S. Ct. 1110, 1113, 86 L. Ed. 1655, 1660 (1941); Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S.
113, 152, 93 S. Ct. 705, 726, 35 L. Ed. 2d 147, 176-77 (1973); see Griswold
v. Connecticut, 381 U.S. 479, 485-86, 85 S. Ct. 1678, 1682, 14 L. Ed. 2d
510, 515-16 (1965) (holding that statute outlawing use of contraceptive
devices was an unlawful invasion of the privacy of marital relationship);
see also Santosky v. Kramer, 455 U.S. 745, 753, 102 S. Ct. 1388, 1394, 71
L. Ed. 2d 599, 606 (1982) (noting "this Court's historical recognition
that freedom of personal choice in matters of family life is a fundamental
liberty interest protected by the Fourteenth Amendment"); Right to
Choose v. Byrne, 91 N.J. 287, 306 (1982) (recognizing that "the choice
to terminate a pregnancy or bear a child" is "one of the most
intimate decisions in human experience").
|||In the present case, the wife's right not to become a parent seemingly
conflicts with the husband's right to procreate. The conflict, however,
is more apparent than real. Recognition and enforcement of the wife's right
would not seriously impair the husband's right to procreate. Though his
right to procreate using the wife's egg would be terminated, he retains
the capacity to father children.
|||On the other hand, enforcing the husband's right to procreate using the
embryos at issue in this case could result in the birth of the wife's biological
child. Even if the wife were relieved of the financial and custodial responsibility
for her child, the fact that her biological child would exist in an environment
controlled by strangers is understandably unacceptable to the wife. Arguably,
therefore, enforcement of the alleged contract to create a child would impair
the wife's constitutional right not to procreate, whereas permitting destruction
of the embryos would not effectively impair the husband's reproductive rights.
Therefore, even if we assume that the Fourteenth Amendment applies (see
the discussion below regarding state action), we reject the husband's contention
that his constitutional rights would be violated by destruction of the embryos.
Cf. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 505 U.S. 833,
893-98, 112 S. Ct. 2791, 2828-31, 120 L. Ed. 2d 674, 725-28 (1992) (invalidating
state's requirement of spousal notice as condition to undergoing an abortion);
Planned Parenthood of Central Missouri v. Danforth, 428 U.S. 52, 69, 96
S. Ct. 2831, 2841, 49 L. Ed. 2d 788, 805 (1976) (holding that a state cannot
constitutionally condition an abortion on the spouse's consent).
|||In urging affirmance of the judgment below, the wife also relies on her
constitutional right of privacy and the right not to procreate. We do not,
however, resolve this case on constitutional grounds because it is not clear
that judicial enforcement of the alleged private contract would constitute
state action under the Fourteenth Amendment. Compare Shelley v. Kraemer,
334 U.S. 1, 19, 68 S. Ct. 836, 845, 92 L. Ed. 1161, 1183 (1947) (holding
that state court enforcement of racially restrictive covenants constituted
state action in violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth
Amendment) and Tulsa Professional Collection Servs., Inc. v. Pope, 485 U.S.
478, 487, 108 S. Ct. 1340, 1346, 99 L. Ed. 2d 565, 576-77 (1988) (finding
state action in probate court's involvement in administration of Oklahoma's
statute requiring decedent's creditors to present claim within two months
of publication of notice) and New York Times Co. v. Sullivan, 376 U.S. 254,
265, 84 S. Ct. 710, 718, 11 L. Ed. 2d 686, 697-98 (1964) (holding that application
by Alabama courts of Alabama rule of law regarding libel constituted state
action) with Davis v. Prudential Sec., Inc., 59 F.3d 1186, 1191-92 (11th
Cir. 1995) (holding that judicial enforcement of arbitration award did not
constitute state action triggering due process protection) and American
Mfrs. Mut. Ins. Co. v. Sullivan, 526 U.S. 40, 51, 119 S. Ct. 977, 986, 143
L. Ed. 2d 130, 144 (1999) (holding that private insurer's decision to seek
review by private utilization review organization of reasonableness and
necessity of medical treatment, though authorized by Pennsylvania workers'
compensation statute, did not involve state action to the extent necessary
to trigger due process guarantees under Fourteenth Amendment) and Flagg
Bros., Inc. v. Brooks, 436 U.S. 149, 157, 98 S. Ct. 1729, 1734, 56 L. Ed.
2d 185, 194 (1978) (holding that warehouse company's sale of customer's
goods for nonpayment of storage charges did not constitute state action,
though authorized by state statute). Moreover, we should not decide constitutional
issues unless necessary to dispose of the litigation. See O'Keefe v. Passaic
Valley Water Comm'n, 132 N.J. 234, 240 (1993).
|||We agree, however, with the reasoning expressed in A.Z., supra, and we
conclude that a contract to procreate is contrary to New Jersey public policy
and is unenforceable. Our conclusion is not inconsistent with Davis, supra,
or Kass, supra, because neither decision enforced a contract to procreate,
despite expansive dicta regarding the enforceability of agreements between
|||Although we do not decide this case on constitutional grounds, constitutional
principles are a source of public policy. Hennessey v. Coastal Eagle Point
Oil Co., 129 N.J. 81, 92-93 (1992). Thus, reproductive rights of constitutional
dimension inform our decision in this case.
|||In the Matter of Baby M, 109 N.J. 396, 434-44 (1988), also provides guidance.
There our Supreme Court held that a maternal surrogacy contract was unenforceable
as contrary to public policy. The contract required the biological mother,
impregnated through artificial insemination, to relinquish her parental
rights in favor of the sperm donor and his wife. Though the surrogacy situation
in Baby M differs from the present case, there is at least one significant
similarity. In the present case, successful use of the frozen embryo by
a stranger would result in the impairment, and perhaps termination, of the
parental rights of the wife in the resulting offspring. Under New Jersey
law, this may not be done without clear and convincing evidence of just
cause. New Jersey Div. of Youth & Family Servs. v. A.W., 103 N.J. 591,
612 (1986); see Baby M., supra, 109 N.J. at 425-27; see also Santosky v.
Kramer, supra. Termination of the wife's parental rights would be achieved
initially by compelling her to become a biological parent against her will.
Thus, the wife would be forced to bear a double insult to her reproductive
|||Moreover, in New Jersey, as in Massachusetts, see A.Z., supra, there are
restrictions against the enforcement of undertakings to marry, N.J.S.A.
2A:23-1 (abolishing actions for "breach of contract to marry"),
and to surrender a child for adoption. See Sees v. Baber, 74 N.J. 201 (1977)
(permitting mother to revoke consent to adoption and physical surrender
of her child). Thus, the observation of the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts
that "agreements to enter into familial relationships (marriage or
parenthood) should not be enforced against individuals who subsequently
reconsider their decisions," A.Z., supra, 725 N.E.2d at 1059, is as
apposite in New Jersey as it is in Massachusetts.
|||We affirm the judgment in favor of the wife. We note, however, that the
trial court's order merely stated that "[p]ursuant to the Court's written
decision . . . the Plaintiff's [wife's] Motion for Summary Judgment is granted."
It is apparent from the context of the case, each party's posture in the
case and the trial court's written opinion, that the court's order requires
destruction of the embryos.*fn3 As modified,
the order is affirmed.
|||*fn1 Preembryo is a medically accurate,
if awkward, term for a zygote, or fertilized egg, that has not been implanted
in a uterus; the embryo proper develops only after implantation. John A.
Robertson, Embryos, Families, and Procreative Liberty: The Legal Structure
of the New Reproduction, 59 Cal. L. Rev. 939, 952 n.45 (1986). "The
term 'frozen embryos' . . . is the term of art denoting cryogenically-preserved
preembryos." Jennifer Marigliano Dehmel, To Have or Not to Have: Whose
Procreative Rights Prevail in Disputes over Dispositions of Frozen Embryos?,
27 Conn. L. Rev. 1377, 1377 n.4 (1995). Preembryo refers to the approximately
fourteen-day period of development from fertilization to the time when the
embryo implants in the uterine wall and the primitive streak, the precursor
to the nervous system, appears. Carl H. Coleman, Procreative Liberty and
Contemporaneous Choice: An Inalienable Rights Approach to Frozen Embryo
Disputes, 84 Minn. L. Rev. 55, 55 n.1 and 69 n.66 (1999). Those who favor
the use of the term preembryo emphasize that it is the exception, not the
rule, for a single individual to result from any given preembryo. Id. at
55 n.1. However, other commentators criticize the term as a linguistic tool
to advance a point of view. Ibid. We use the term embryo in this opinion
only because it is linguistically convenient.
|||*fn2 The record indicates that the sister
is not interested in using the embryos.
|||*fn3 There is nothing in the record
to indicate that Cooper will not respect an order requiring destruction
of the embryos.
The Law, Science & Public
Health Law Site
The Best on the WWW Since 1995!
Copyright as to non-public domain materials
See DR-KATE.COM for home hurricane and disaster preparation
See WWW.EPR-ART.COM for photography of southern Louisiana and Hurricane Katrina
Professor Edward P. Richards, III, JD, MPH - Webmaster