A Virginia judge has ruled that the embryos can legally be classified as property or “personal property,” a decision with echoes of slavery in the US.
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner partially based his decision on a 19th century law governing the treatment of slaves, a measure that now draws criticism from lawyers and academics.
“It’s repulsive and it’s morally repugnant.said Susan Crockin, a lawyer and scholar at Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics.
The case centered on a dispute between a divorced woman and her ex-husband. Honeyhline Heidemann wanted to use embryos she made with her ex Jason Heidemann, but he wanted the embryos to remain in storage.
Gardiner initially sided with the ex-husband, saying the clincher was that embryos cannot be bought or sold, and therefore were not “owned” by Honeyhline to do as they please.
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But after being asked by his attorney, Adam Kronfeld, to do so, Gardiner researched the law back before the Civil War, when slaves were also discussed.
“Since there is no prohibition on the sale of human embryos, they can be valued and sold, and therefore can be considered ‘property or chattel,’” the judge wrote in his decision.
None of the Heidemanns’ lawyers mentioned the issue of slavery in their arguments.
The ex-husband’s lawyers argued that he should not have to “procreate against his wishes,” which would infringe his constitutional right to “procreative autonomy.”
Honeyhline Heidemann’s lawyers claimed that her desire to use the embryos outweighed her wishes because he would not have to be involved in raising the child and because she is no longer able to reproduce due to complications from cancer treatment.
Gardiner has yet to make a decision on Jason Heidemann’s procreational autonomy. His decision last month that the embryos can be owned, he says, is not final.
with cable news services