Paternity Paradox

Court of Special Appeals of Maryland Considers Fatherhood, Donated Embryos, and In Vitro Fertilization

Sieglein v. Schmidt, No. 2616 Sept. Term. 2013, 2015 WL 5021392, at *2 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. Aug. 25, 2015)

Held:

The Court of Special Appeals of Maryland affirmed an order of the Circuit Court for Harford County finding that the father was in fact the legal parent of minor child, despite the fact that child had been conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) via donated sperm and egg during the marriage.

Facts:

Parties met on a dating website and, each bringing children from prior relationships, were married shortly thereafter. Prior to meeting his new wife, father had a vasectomy, and during their months dating had expressed his desire not to have any more children. Despite this, following their marriage, mother expressed a desire to have another child. Father refused to undergo a reversal of the vasectomy, but the parties sought assisted reproductive services from a Maryland fertility clinic. Both parties signed the relevant documents accepting the relevant purpose, risks and benefits of the procedure. The parties pursued the IVF option utilizing donated egg and sperm, and through this method a child was conceived and born of the marriage. One month after the birth of the child, the marriage had faltered, and the mother filed a complaint for divorce. Father filed an answer denying parentage of the minor child.

The bold yet unsuccessful plea of the father’s attorney to the Circuit Court was quoted by the COSA as follows: [I]t is an interesting part of the discussion because you have to recognize that what I am asking you to do is to rule that this child has no natural parents because we didn’t know who the anonymous donors are. That’s a byproduct of the in[ ]vitro process and that’s why it’s a question of legislative intent.

Quoting Maryland Code ET  1 206(b), wife simply argued that [a] child conceived by artificial insemination of a married woman with the consent of her husband is the legitimate child of both of them for all purposes.

Court’s Discussion:

The COSA observed that under Father’s interpretation of ET  1 206(b), a child conceived via artificial insemination with donated sperm would be a legitimate child of the marriage, while a child conceived via IVF using the same genetic material would not. According to Father, the essential aspect of the in vitro process is that it occurs outside of the woman?s bod, whereas, as the name literally describes, artificial insemination necessarily takes place within her body. Moreover, Father urged, IVF is a comparatively recent innovation, adding that ET 1 206(b) was codified in 1969 and the first IVF did not take place for another decade.

However, the COSA found that despite Father’s assertion that the processes of artificial insemination and IVF are physically and scientifically distinct, it is clear that either process may be executed using donated genetic material.

The Court held the following: By enacting ET 1 206(b), the General Assembly evinced its intention to acknowledge the role of medically assisted, non-traditional conception of a child in establishing a parent’s rights and obligations. Under Maryland law, within the context of marriage, the precise physical procedure has no necessary impact on the relationships of the parties involved mother, father, and child. Therefore, we interpret ET  1 206(b) as also encompassing IVF, and hold that a child conceived via artificial insemination or IVF with the consent of the parties and born during a marriage is the legitimate child of the marriage and legal parentage is established as to both spouses. In the matter before us, where Mother and Father were married at the time of conception and birth, and willingly and voluntarily agreed to conceive a child through assisted reproductive services using anonymously donated genetic material, we hold that ETs 1 206(b) applies to establish the legal parentage of both Mother and Father. Sieglein v. Schmidt at *9.

The COSA wrapped up by saying that it certainly, defies sound public policy to create, through the strained application of a statute, a subset of children who based on the specific physical method of their conception have no natural parents because we d[o]n’t know who the anonymous donors are.

Bottom Line:

I think it is fair to sum it up this way. If a client, or if you, has/have decided to seek the help of a fertility clinic in the pursuit of parenthood, and that pursuit results in the conception of a child, no amount of semantic argument will permit a mother or father from escaping responsibility. For legal purposes, a donated sperm and egg, which are successfully transformed into a viable embryo in a Petri’dish, have the same identity as those which have been joined the old fashion way.

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