JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Jasha McQueen created four embryos with her then-husband through in vitro fertilization (IVF) in 2007. Two of those embryos became her twin sons, but the other two have become the subject of a lengthy and grueling court battle when McQueen and her husband started divorce proceedings in 2010. McQueen claimed possession of those embryos when they were created.
When she did not receive them, she began a fight for custody.
The legal framework that would make that possible is thanks to a bill sponsored by Rep. John McCaherty, R-High Ridge, that would recognize human embryos as human life, meaning in cases of divorce, they would be divided as children are in custody battles instead of as possessions are divided. The judge in these proceedings would also have to rule in favor of the best interests for the embryo to come to term.
“In essence, what the judicial system is doing… they have no clear direction what to do with frozen human embryos so they are treating them as property,” McCaherty said during testimony. “This bill gives some direction to the courts. Either parent could pay fees to allow them to be frozen in perpetuity. I don’t believe it is in the best interest of the state to be making decisions on the issue of life when there is a parent that wants to raise a child.”
McQueen also testified, saying that her relationship to her embryos was already personal.
“These are two of my babies that I would like to give them the opportunity to be born,” she said. “It is a compassionate bill that looks at the people going through this process that is incredibly grueling.
“We are terminating this person’s embryo over their objections. That should not happen. There are people… that are grieving parents at the hands of a judge. I feel like the judge and the state of Missouri are killing my babies.”
While opposition to the resolution seemed to sympathize with McQueen’s plight to an extent, they had deep concerns about the way in which this bill would enable her to obtain those embryos.
Carla Holste, a family law practitioner with the Carson and Coil law firm, noted that redefining embryos as life under law could have disastrous unforeseen consequences for the IVF industry.
“IVF clinics will have to determine their liability should something happen to one of those embryos, even accidentally,” she said. “This bill says it’s life.Would they be charged with manslaughter? You now have a level of potential liability that you did not have before.”
Mary Beck, a specialist in assisted reproductive therapy law with the University of Missouri, said the high cost of keeping embryos in frozen limbo could cause IVF facilities to cease their businesses.
“It’s $2,000 for one vial of embryos per year,” she said. “One clinic questioned about the issue has 7,000 embryos frozen. So if one clinic suddenly finds itself required to keep those embryos frozen [in perpetuity], it would go out of business. It would have to.”
The reproductive consequences worried Sarah Rossi of the ACLU of Missouri who reminded the committee that the government could not compel people to reproduce under the 14th Amendment. Her argument was that allowing those embryos to come to term under the consent of just one parent would make the other biological product donor used to make the embryo, be it sperm or egg, a biological parent by default. Even if that unwilling parent gave up their legal rights as a parent, Rossi argued the bill essentially forced someone to become a biological parent against their will.
McQueen disagreed with that contention, pointing to the agreement she made with her ex-husband before they separated and that the IVF process was the shining example of literal “planned parenthood,” that the prohibitive expensive, time-consuming and emotionally-draining IVF process meant only parents that wanted to reproduce would pursue it.
“What you do when you do IVF is you want to have kids,” she said. “That’s the whole idea. You are not in the backseat of a car having a good time at 16 years old.”
She also noted that some men were forced to become fathers against their will already if a woman decides to keep a child that a man does not necessarily want.
Ultimately, McQueen does not want the bill to be a bill that divides people into their predisposed camps of pro-choice and pro-parent.
“I really want to look at this as a pro-parent bill,” she said.