High Tech Reproduction Court Battle Ends In Loss Of Reproductive Rights For Dad

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embryo photo up closeThe evolution of reproduction science in the Western world has created a slew of new legal challenges, and the case of Szafranski vs. Dunston is a perfect example of this phenomenon. Back in 2010, Karla Dunston was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin Lymphoma. Realizing that the chemo treatments necessary to save her life would most likely leave her infertile, she and then-boyfriend Jacob Szafranski chose to use his donated semen and her eggs to create embryos to freeze for later use; a decision that would come back to haunt Szafranski. The couple broke up a few months later, and soon after Szafranski changed his mind about having children, triggering a heated high tech reproduction court battle. This Friday a Cook County judge finally ruled in Dunston’s favor, leaving many folks, including me, asking; what about the father’s reproductive rights?

According to The Global Dispatch:

“The Cook County judge ruled on Friday, awarded custody of the embryos to Dunston, stating the cancer survivor’s  “desire to have a biological child in the face of the impossibility of having one without using the embryos outweighs” paternity rights or decision now to “not procreate.”

Now, in the original agreement, Dunston and Szafranski agreed that the embryos would not be used unless both parties were in agreement. It was only in a later agreement that Szafranski considered giving Dunston full control, and that legal agreement was never signed. In that agreement, Szafranski only agreed to give up his rights if his records could be destroyed and nothing could be traced back to him. The fertility clinic involved refused to comply (most likely due to legal reasons), so Szafranksi backed out. He is understandably concerned about his privacy and the fact that having a biological child with a woman he was with for less than a year might hinder his romantic prospects in the future:

“I have the right not to be a father,’ he said. ‘It’s something I take very seriously and feel very strongly about.”

I think it should also be noted that Dunston does have a child, albeit a non-biological one:

“Dunston, 42, has since gone on to carry and give birth to a son – using a donor egg and donor sperm, Szafranski’s attorney confirmed. But he added that would not affect the outcome of the case as the court distinguishes between a child that is biological and ‘essentially adopted’.”

That’s funny, I didn’t think there was anything inherently wrong with being “essentially adopted.” I’m sure that kid will just love being referred to in this manner when he grows up.

I am sympathetic to Dunston’s story. It must be incredibly painful to lose your fertility at such a young age (Dunston is now 42, and was diagnosed at 38). And I think it’s a doubly cruel twist of fate that the person she chose to create her frozen embryos with chose to change his mind, essentially ruining her chances of having biological children (she had the option of using donor sperm, but chose Szafranski because of their relationship and the fact that they had been friends for many years). But in my opinion, having biological children is not a right, but a privilege. And even if it were a right, Szafranski’s right to not have children should be equally considered. Legally, Dunston may have had a solid case, but morally I think she was pushing the boundaries.

(Photo: koya979/Shutterstock)