The Connecticut Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that an agreement signed by a couple seeking in vitro fertilization to destroy the pre-embryos in the event of a divorce should be upheld as a valid contract.
Timothy Goodwin and Jennifer Bilbao signed an agreement with a facility to store the remaining pre-embryos after their fertility treatment. In the agreement, the parties checked and initialed beside a box requesting that the embryos be destroyed in the event of divorce. When the couples divorced in 2016, Goodwin sued to prevent the destruction of the embryos.
The lower court ruled that the agreement with the storage facility was not a contract because it lacked consideration. The state Supreme Court reversed the lower court ruling, finding that there was consideration in the form of contributed genetic material, which resulted in the formation of the embryos and the conception of the couple’s child. The couple initialed and signed the agreement and as a result there is no reason not to treat the agreement as an enforceable promise. Goodwin also claimed that the contract was unenforceable as a matter of public policy because the embryos are human beings. The court declined to review this claim because he failed to submit evidence to support it.
The court made clear that the ruling was a narrow one:
[O]ur decision applies to contracts that, if enforced, will not result in procreation. We do not decide whether the contractual approach applies in a scenario that would force one party to become a genetic parent against his or her wishes.
Other states have tended to favor destruction of the embryos where one party does not want to become a genetic parent. In 2015, a California court also upheld a similar agreement requiring the disposition of frozen embryos in the event of divorce. However, other courts have refused to consider the agreements in contractual terms and have applied a balancing approach to the issue. In 2016, a Missouri court ruled that embryos should be treated as marital property and that it would violate the 14th Amendment to force an individual to become a parent without their consent.