Rights to Embryo Inheritance Decided in China
The first Chinese dispute involving the inheritance rights to a preserved embryo was decided late last week.
With recent developments in assisted reproductive technologies and cryopreservation of genetic materials, it is possible for viable sperm, eggs, and even embryos to survive the individuals from whom they were obtained.
Last March, Liu Xi and Shen Jie died in a car accident. Soon before their deaths, the couple’s genetic materials were used to produce an embryo that remained frozen following the fatal collision. Both Liu and Shen were only children, and their parents saw the rights to the preserved embryo as their only chance of ever becoming grandparents. Shen’s parents proceeded to sue the Xis for the rights with respect to the cryopreserved embryo. The hospital where the embryo remained frozen was also a party to the proceedings, and refused to release the embryo to either party, absent a court order.
Justice Lu Yaqin decided that the embryo, which held the potential for human life, was not capable of being transferred or inherited. Either party’s rights with respect to the use of the embryo were considered to be limited, as the sale or donation of the embryo were prohibited by Chinese law. Further, the purpose of the creation and preservation of the embryo was to allow Shen and Liu to reproduce, despite fertility issues. As this purpose had been frustrated by their untimely deaths, neither set of potential grandparents were granted the right to remove the embryo from storage. It is anticipated that the hospital will soon destroy the embryo that currently remains in their possession.
Many jurisdictions have previously considered the rights of prospective parents with respect to preserved embryos within the family law context. With increasing rates of reliance on assisted reproductive technologies in conceiving children, it is inevitable that the issue of inheritance rights of hopeful grandparents to the embryo of their children will be more frequently encountered globally.
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