A Family Court judge in Michigan late last month refused a mother’s request for custody of five to ten frozen embryos on ice at an in-vitro fertilization facility.
The embryos were produced through in vitro, or outside the body, fertilization in 2015 and then frozen.
The mother, Gloria Karungi, and her former boyfriend, Ronald Ejalu, agreed to produce the embryos two years after they broke up. The decision was the first step of a plan to eventually implant the embryos in Gloria’s womb in order for her to bear a child.
During their short relationship, Karungi and Ejalu brought forth, by natural means, a now eleven-year-old daughter, who has been diagnosed with sickle cell disease, a serious blood disorder.
The parents, though separated, wanted to possibly use stem cells from the newborn’s umbilical cord as a potential cure for their sick child.
Ejalu has since married and has two children with his legal wife, and he has primary custody of the ailing girl.
When he changed his mind about the plan because of its high risk, and the advent of new, lower risk therapies and procedures, he allegedly wanted the embryos destroyed. Karungi filed suit to block him.
Karungi’s attorney, David Kallman of the Great Lakes Justice Center, said that his client has the constitutional right to make decisions affecting her body and her pre-born children after fertilization. “She simply wants to have custody and prevent the destruction of the embryos,” he said.
“The issue in this case revolved around whether the embryos are mere property or are life that is deserving of the court’s protection…(as well as) who has the authority to decide their fate,” Kallman said.
Ejalu’s attorney, Daniel Weberman, told The Epoch Times that his client may have initially considered destroying the embryos, but has since changed his thinking.
Weberman characterized the judge’s decision as “a stark rebuke to stealth anti-choice advocates.”
“The (opposing counsel’s) law firm’s legal positions involving frozen embryos are largely considered fringe legal arguments, and have been rejected by all state and federal courts, including the United States Supreme Court,” Weberman said.
The case was decided on the fact that Karungi and Ejalu had entered into a contract with an in vitro company and with one another.
The contract reads in part, “Each embryo cryopreserved as a result of in vitro fertilization shall be considered the joint property of both recipient and partner who are deemed to be the legal owners.”
Though Weberman argued his client’s case in the narrow terms of adhering to a contract, the broader national implications entered into his brief.
Weberman wrote, “The entire litigation has been fundamentally unfair as Plaintiff and her counsel muddied the waters seeking to overturn Roe v. Wade, and have this court declare frozen in vitro embryos subject to child custody laws and deemed persons.”
In a December 23 ruling, Oakland County Circuit Judge Lisa Langton ordered that the parties remain joint owners until they reach an agreement, amongst themselves, through alternative dispute resolution.”
Kallman told The Epoch Times that the decision dodged the real issue. He said the courts are as reluctant to decide cases like this as they are to deal with cases involving election fraud. “I am disappointed that the court declined to rule on the life status of the embryos, even though the Appeals Court said the judge had the authority to do so. We intend to appeal.”
After nearly seven years of litigation and thousands of dollars of legal fees, the embryos remain in the freezer at a cost of $50 per month.
What’s the long-term future of the embryos?
Weberman said Ejalu is willing to keep them frozen “in perpetuity.”
“Nobody likes calling embryos ‘property,’ said Weberman. “But, because they are not born, they cannot fall under the child custody act.”
Weberman said the law has not kept pace with artificial reproductive technology.
“This is resulting in a lot of permutations. It’s a mess. People need to ask their legislators for solutions. In the meantime, each party desiring to employ these new reproductive technologies should consult with his own separate attorney,” he said.