After an in vitro fertilization clinic in Ohio lost more than 4,000 eggs and embryos, one of the couples is suing the clinic, asking a court to recognize an embryo as a person.
Wendy Penniman was one of many people to file a lawsuit against University Hospitals Fertility Center after a malfunctioning cryogenic tank increased temperatures the weekend of March 3.
“We are asking the court to declare that an embryo is a person and that life begins at conception,” said the Penniman’s lawyer, Bruce Taubman, according to News 5 Cleveland.
Having first filed a lawsuit March 12, Taubman filed an additional complaint March 30, asking for a declaratory judgment on the legal status of an embryo. If embryos are recognized as persons, wrongful death suits could be brought against the fertility center.
Taubman has referred to a 1985 Ohio Supreme Court case, Werling v. Sandy, in which the court held that a viable fetus is a person.
“In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court held that an embryo is not a person, but that was solely for the purposes of obtaining an abortion,” said Taubman, according to News 5 Cleveland.
“I see this case ending up in front of the Ohio Supreme Court, and I would like to think that they are going to follow my line of reasoning and declare an embryo a person.”
But Harvard Law Professor Glenn Cohen told News 5 Cleveland, “Ohio has already had a case where they basically said you can't use this statute unless you're talking about a viable fetus, and this is so much earlier than that.”
The Pennimans chose to use IVF after suffering 11 miscarriages. Through the clinic, the couple had two children and was hoping to have a third with another one of the frozen embryos.
Having a degree in biochemical engineering herself, Penniman felt betrayed to hear how the lab handled liquid nitrogen and the malfunction.
Reportedly, an employee had turned off the alarm system so none of the staff offsite had been notified, and an issue occurred with the tank’s autofill valve, which replenishes the freezers with liquid nitrogen to keep the embryos cool.
“You think to yourself, 'How can this be going on behind the scenes?'” said Penniman, noting that the clinic should treat embryos and eggs with the same care as other patients.
“They trusted them with the most important thing they have: the future of their families. With the flip of a switch, they've lost the future,” Taubman added.