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Assisted Reproduction

California Court to Settle Dispute Over Frozen Embryos

In vitro fertilization has been a blessing to hundreds of thousands of couples, but few of them discuss upfront a difficult question: “If we break up, what happens to our embryos?” “Modern Family” star Sofia Vergara found herself confronting that challenging question earlier this year, after her break-up with businessman Nick Loeb led to a bitter dispute over what to do with their frozen embryos.

Vergara and Loeb aren’t the first couple to face this legal and ethical crossroads, and as the San Francisco Chronicle reported this weekend, they are not the last. A Bay Area couple who received IVF treatments at UCSF’s Center for Reproductive Health and froze several of their embryos find themselves in San Francisco Superior Court today, battling over the fate of those frozen embryos. Now that the relationship is over, Stephen Findley wants the embryos destroyed. His ex-wife, Mimi Lee, wishes to use the embryos.

Lee’s wish marks an unexpected 180-degree turnaround from her previously expressed desires. Before their IVF treatments at UCSF, Lee signed an agreement to dispose of the embryos if her relationship with Findley dissolved. Her lawyer will now need to convince the court not to honor the agreement that she signed.


Our office, Vorzimer Masserman, represents UCSF in this case. UCSF requires all couples receiving IVF treatments at its fertility clinic to sign an embryo disposition agreement. That agreement establishes each couple’s precise wishes for their embryos, in case of divorce or death.

This case presents a bold reminder to all couples planning on IVF treatments to create such a disposition plan, to make sure that they fully agree on how to handle their embryos, in case their relationship comes to an unexpected close. Like euphoric newlyweds with the cool-headed wisdom to craft a prenuptial agreement, couples should decide what to do with their embryos in case of a break-up, then place those wishes on paper before beginning IVF treatments.

If you don’t, the court might be pressed into making the decision for you.


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