News & Politics

Ohio Appellate Court Weighs Humanity of Frozen Embryos after Cryogenic Tank Failure

A bereaved mother and her husband filed a lawsuit against a medical facility after three of their embryos died in a cryogenic tank failure. On Wednesday, an Ohio court heard the case, which centers on whether or not these embryos are unique human lives.

“Our embryos were created for the sole purpose of being born. They contain all genetic material that you or I have,” Wendy Penniman, the mother in the case, told PJ Media on Friday. “There is no difference between [my embryos and] the 6-week fetuses they are protecting in these ‘Heartbeat Bills’ that are passing in several states, other than the stage of the child’s development.”

Penniman sued University Hospitals (UH) after a cryogenic tank failed at Ahuja Medical Center last march, killing her three embryos, along with more than 4,000 eggs and embryos.

“These are human beings, and I believe that in my heart,” Penniman said, Fox 8 News reported. “This isn’t a financial thing. These are our children.”

A lower court judge ruled that embryos are not people, but the mother appealed to Ohio’s Eighth District Court of Appeals.

As for UH, Penniman told PJ Media, “They view the embryos as property.”

Indeed, UH attorney Benjamin Sasse argued, “At this point in time, the law is clear that an embryo is not a person. Even the changes that are afoot will not change the law that would make an embryo a person.”

Some lawyers have pointed to the landmark abortion case Roe v. Wade (1973) as the benchmark for the humanity of unborn children. According to Roe, a fetus is not considered a person until viability.

However, advances in fetal surgery have enabled doctors to save the lives of infants earlier and earlier in pregnancy. According to genetics, an embryo is a separate human being from the moment of conception, when a unique genetic code is assembled.

Penniman told PJ Media that the law should change to echo medical and scientific advances in favor of personhood at conception.

“You can’t be in the business of reproduction like UH is and deny that these weren’t selected to optimize their chance at a successful birth into the world,” she said. “They were made to be born. I know that and the UH Reproductive Endocrinology team knows that as well.”

“UH is resting on existing law which is outdated and doesn’t discuss frozen embryos outside the body but focuses on those inside the body,” Penniman argued. “They keep stating that this was already decided but the law was written before IVF was as common as it is.”

According to a Marist Poll commissioned by the Knights of Columbus and published in January, a majority of American adults (52 percent) say that life begins either at conception (42 percent) or in the first three months of pregnancy (10 percent). Only 19 percent say life begins when a fetus is viable outside the womb, and 13 percent say life begins when the baby is born.

Follow Tyler O’Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.