The Oregon Court of Appeals has ordered six frozen embryos destroyed after ruling they can be treated as personal property in a divorce.
The court ruled unanimously on Wednesday that an agreement leaving the final decision up to the ex-wife must be followed.
Dr. Laura Dahl, a pediatrician, and her former husband, Dr. Darrell Angle, an orthodontist, had attempted to conceive through in vitro fertilization.
After several failed attempts, the couple gave up and left the embryos with Oregon Health & Science University under an agreement that spelled out how they would be stored.
Dahl decided to have the embryos destroyed, but Angle had argued they should be donated to other couples trying to conceive.
In an opinion by Presiding Judge Rex Armstrong, the court ruled there is a contractual right to determine the fate of the embryos as personal property.
But Armstrong noted there is little guidance on who gets to make that decision in a divorce, so the court relied on a 1998 New York state case that held agreements on what to do with embryos after in vitro fertilization are binding.
Armstrong — noting the ruling in New York — said that it should be the parents, "not the state and not the courts, who by their prior directive make this deeply personal life choice."
Dahl said she opposed her ex-husband's recommendation that the embryos be donated to another woman for implantation because she did not want anybody else to raise her child.
Dahl also was concerned that any child born as a result of implantation might later wish to contact the son who she and Angle had previously conceived naturally.
The court noted that Angle "does not argue that the agreement itself is ambiguous or invalid for public policy reasons" and affirmed a Clackamas County Circuit Court ruling that he agreed his ex-wife would make the final decision.