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Assisted Reproduction

Ex-Wife Testifies in Frozen Embryo Case

A divorced couple’s tense battle over the fate of their frozen embryos took an unexpected turn yesterday. The case of Stephen Findley and Mimi Lee has been playing out in San Francisco Superior Court under the watchful eye of the national media.

Findley and Lee received in vitro fertilization treatments at UCSF’s Center for Reproductive Health. The couple froze five embryos and signed a document to dispose of the embryos in case of a divorce. Now that the couple has divorced, Findley has sought to dispose of the embryos, in accordance with the contract. Lee has asked the court to set aside the signed contract and grant her permission to use the embryos.

UCSF’s attorney Dean Masserman cross-examining Lee

During his testimony earlier in the week, Findley, a successful financial analyst, described crass statements that Lee made about the financial value of the embryos, as she pressed Findley to state exactly how many millions of dollars the embryos were worth to him. Lee took the stand yesterday, admitted to making those statements, and broke down into tears.

Lee was cross-examined by Dean Masserman of our firm, Vorzimer Masserman, which represents UCSF in the case. Reporter Marisa Kendall of The Recorder described Masserman’s pointed exchange with Lee:

Under questioning by [Masserman], Lee told the court she sometimes signs documents without reading them all the way through. For example, she said she never reads the contracts that come with her iPhone updates.

“Well, it’s not an iPhone contract, OK?” Masserman snapped, prompting one of several objections by Lee’s lawyers to his “argumentative” questioning.

Lee testified that during her work as an anesthesiologist she often saw medical consent forms changed or adjusted. Furthermore, in the form she signed, there was language suggesting the form could be amended.

“You read it closely enough to get that part out of it,” Masserman said.

Lee responded she understood there were situations in which “we could change our minds.”

Masserman clapped his hands. “You just said we,” he shot back.

Masserman and Findley’s attorney, Joseph Crawford of Hanson Crawford Crum Family Law Group, have argued that both parties would need to consent to any changes in the directives on the form. Asked why she hadn’t frozen her eggs, Lee responded that her doctor had advised that freezing embryos would lead to a greater chance of a successful birth.

During his testimony, Findley had stated that Lee read the UCSF contract and solidified the couple’s wishes by checking the “thaw and discard” box. During cross-examination, Lee refused to concede that she had checked that box. “I don’t recall,” Lee replied when asked who made the check mark. “It could be mine. It could be Steve’s.”

Further coverage of the case was provided by KGO (ABC News-San Francisco):


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