In A.Z. v. B.Z. (2000), the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts in Boston, Massachusetts, affirmed a lower courtÕs decision, ruling that contracts that require a party to become a parent against his or her will are unenforceable and contrary to public policy. The case centered around A.Z. and B.Z., a divorced couple who had previously used in vitro fertilization (IVF) to start a family together during their marriage and had several preembryos cryopreserved as part of the process. While undertaking IVF, the couple signed multiple consent forms requiring them to decide what should happen to the cryopreserved preembryos in the event of certain listed contingencies, such as death or separation of the couple. The couple indicated their preference that B.Z., A.Z.Õs now former wife, could use the cryopreserved preembryos if the couple later separated. When their relationship deteriorated, however, A.Z. objected to B.Z.Õs attempt to have additional children using the preembryos, leading to a lengthy legal battle. The court case A.Z. v. B.Z. established Massachusetts public policy that people should not be forced to become a parent against their will, even if they previously agreed to provide their genetic material for reproduction.
In the 2008 court case In the Matter of the Marriage of Dahl and Angle, the Court of Appeals of Oregon upheld a written in vitro fertilization (IVF) consent form signed by Laura and Darrell Angle, who had each contributed their genetic material to the creation of several preembryos during their marriage. Its decision followed the general framework for resolving such disputes provided by the Supreme Court of Tennessee in Davis v. Davis in 1992, which was subsequently followed by many courts across the US. The decision by the Court of Appeals of Oregon reinforced the idea that agreements that reflect the couple's intent at the time of undertaking IVF should be upheld, regardless of a later change of heart.
In the case Randy M. Roman v. Augusta N. Roman (2006), the Court of Appeals of Texas followed courts in other states and upheld the validity and enforceability of in vitro fertilization (IVF) consent agreements. The Romans, a divorced couple, each sought different outcomes for their cryopreserved preembryos created during their marriage. Randy Roman sought to have them destroyed, and Augusta Roman sought to implant them in an attempt to have biological children. The Texas court, citing several related cases, declared that the written IVF consent form the Romans had signed would govern the outcome of the cryopreserved preembryos.
In Jeter v. Mayo, the Court of Appeals of Arizona in 2005 held that a cryopreserved, three-day-old pre-embryo is not a person for purposes of Arizona's wrongful death statutes, and that the Arizona Legislature was best suited to decide whether to expand the law to include cryopreserved pre-embryos. The Court of Appeals affirmed a decision by the Maricopa County Superior Court to dismiss a couple's wrongful death claim after the Mayo Clinic (Mayo) allegedly lost or destroyed several of their cryopreserved pre-embryos. In reaching its decision, the Court of Appeals explored ethical and legal issues relating to cryopreserved pre-embryos, including prior case law, the principles of statutory construction, and the Arizona Legislature's role in balancing the societal interests involved.
In Maureen Kass v. Steven Kass (1998), the Court of Appeals of New York in Albany, New York, ruled that the state should generally consider IVF consent forms signed by participants in an in vitro fertilization (IVF) program valid, binding, and enforceable in the event of a dispute. The court indicated that decisions regarding the handling of cryopreserved pre-zygotes, often called preembryos, contained within these consent forms should be upheld. Although Steven and Maureen Kass had signed IVF consent forms agreeing to donate unused preembryos to research, during their divorce Maureen argued for custody of the preembryos. The New York Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Steven Kass and concluded that the informed consent forms signed by the former couple had clearly manifested the coupleÕs mutual intent to donate any preembryos to research in the event of a dispute.
In the case York v. Jones (1989), the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia was one of the first US courts to address a dispute over a cryopreserved preembryo. Steven York and Risa Adler-York (the Yorks), a married couple, provided their gametes to doctors who created the preembryo, which the court referred to as a pre-zygote, as part of an in vitro fertilization (IVF) program at the Howard and Georgeanna Jones Institute for Reproductive Medicine (Jones Institute) in Norfolk, Virginia. The couple sued when the doctors at the Jones Institute refused to release the preembryo to the Yorks for use at a different IVF clinic. The Virginia district court denied the Jones Institute's attempt to have the York v. Jones case dismissed, and instead upheld the Yorks' right to move forward with their lawsuit. The York v. Jones decision had important implications for future disputes over cryopreserved preembryos because it treated the Yorks' cryopreserved preembryo as legal property over which the Yorks retained decision-making authority.
In Davis v. Davis (1992), the Supreme Court of Tennessee decided a dispute over cryopreserved preembryos in favor of Junior Lewis Davis, who sought to have the preembryos destroyed over the objections of his former wife, Mary Sue Davis. The decision in Davis, although not binding in other states, suggested a framework for resolving similar disputes in the US. That framework established that courts should follow the wishes of those who contribute their sperm and egg cells, or gamete providers, to create preembryos. In the event of a dispute, courts should enforce any prior agreement between the gamete providers and in the absence of such an agreement, the court should weigh the interests of the parties, ordinarily ruling in favor of the party who wishes to avoid procreation.
In a dispute over the allocation of cryopreserved preembryos, the Supreme Court of Washington resolved the case of David J. Litowitz v. Becky M. Litowitz (2002) by reaching a decision that neither party wanted. David Litowitz sought to find adoptive parents for two cryopreserved preembryos created during his marriage to Becky Litowitz when the couple was attempting to have children using in vitro fertilization (IVF). Becky sought to implant the preembryos in a surrogate in an effort to parent a child. In June 2002, the court instead determined that the preembryos should have been destroyed. The court focused on the former couple s written consent agreement signed at the time of their participation in the IVF program, which stated that the preembryos would be destroyed after five years of storage.
In 2001, the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided a dispute between a divorced couple over cryopreserved preembryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) during the coupleÕs marriage. The former wife (J.B.) wanted the preembryos destroyed, while her former husband (M.B.) wanted them to be used for future implantation attempts, such as by an infertile couple. In J.B. v. M.B. (2001), the court declined to force J.B. to become a parent against her will, concluding that doing so would violate state public policy. Instead, the Supreme Court of New Jersey decided that agreements directing the allocation of cryopreserved preembryos will be enforced, unless one party changes his or her mind prior to the preembryosÕ use or destruction. Should a party revoke an earlier decision about the preembryos, New Jersey courts should weigh the partiesÕ interests with special weight given to an individualÕs right to not procreate.