Fertility Clinic Mishap Fuzzies Edges of Wrongful Death and Property Torts
The University Hospital Fertility Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio is facing multiple lawsuits after their refrigeration unit failed destroying thousands of human embryos. According to reports, the temperature in the storage unit began to rise and an internal alarm system never activated. It was later revealed that someone had turned the alarm system off. Now patients of the clinic are furious that their embryos have been destroyed.
While it would seem that this is a matter of negligence or medical malpractice, it begs the question: What exactly is an embryo under the law? A court will be forced to rule on that question and sort out a legal mess that blurs the lines between several types of civil claims.
Is a Fetus Considered a Person?
Fetuses also operate in this gray area. If, for instance, a person intentionally attacked a pregnant woman causing her to lose the baby, they could be charged with first-degree murder. However, if the mother chooses to terminate the pregnancy, that is her right under the law. When the mother intends to have the baby, an assailant can be charged with murder. If the couples say that they were going to turn these embryos into babies, should the staff who negligently allowed the embryos to be destroyed be held accountable civilly?
Compensating Victims for Destruction of Embryos
There are currently 100 couples who have filed lawsuits against the fertility clinic for destroying their embryos. Nearly 1000 families lost embryos in the mishap. Roughly 4000 embryos were destroyed. Are the embryos people or are they property?
If they are property, the families can be compensated for damages related to their expenses and what the loss means to them emotionally. For instance, if they can no longer have children and the fertility clinic cost them the opportunity to have children, they may be entitled to compensation for their damages. But for at least one family, that isn’t good enough.
That family has petitioned the court to have the embryos treated as people in order to have them declared patients of the University Hospital. If they are successful, then each of these families will be able to file 4000 wrongful death lawsuits against the hospital. The lawsuit, which was previously brought on behalf of the Penniman family, was dismissed by Judge Friedman. It has the feel of the type of case that could end up being heard by the U.S. Supreme Court.
Talk to a St. Petersburg Medical Malpractice Attorney
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