Judge Uses Slavery Law to Rule Frozen Human Embryos are Property in Divorce Case
This is creepy and unsettling, for like, 54, 000 reasons.
(Link): Virginia judge uses slavery-era law to argue human embryos can be considered property
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner’s ruling came amid dispute between divorced couple over frozen embryos
(Link): Judge rules frozen embryos are property in divorce dispute, cites pre-Civil War slavery law
March 15, 2023
A Virginia judge cited a 19th-century law about slave ownership in ruling that human embryos can legally be considered property or “chattel.”
Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner issued the preliminary opinion last month in a case involving a divorced couple’s dispute over embryos they stored together. The couple, Honeyhline Heidemann and Jason Heidemann, separated in 2017 and divorced in 2018.
The ex-wife is 45 and infertile due to cancer treatments and wants to use the embryos, while her ex-husband does not.
(Link): Judge uses slavery law to rule frozen human embryos are property in divorce case
March 10, 2023
Frozen human embryos can legally be considered property, or “chattel,” a Virginia judge has ruled, basing his decision in part on a 19th-century law governing the treatment of slaves.
The preliminary opinion by Fairfax County Circuit Judge Richard Gardiner — delivered in a long-running dispute between a divorced husband and wife — is being criticized by some for wrongly and unnecessarily delving into a time in Virginia history when it was legally permissible to own human beings.
“It’s repulsive and it’s morally repugnant,” said Susan Crockin, a lawyer and scholar at Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute of Ethics and an expert in reproductive technology law.
Solomon Ashby, president of the Old Dominion Bar Association, a professional organization made up primarily of African American lawyers, called Gardiner’s ruling troubling.
“I would like to think that the bench and the bar would be seeking more modern precedent,” he said.
Honeyhline Heidemann, 45, wants to use the embryos. Jason Heidemann objects.
Initially, Gardiner sided with Jason Heidemann. The law at the heart of the case governs how to divide “goods and chattels.”
The judge ruled that because embryos could not be bought or sold, they couldn’t be considered as such and therefore Honeyhline Heidemann had no recourse under that law to claim custody of them.
But after the ex-wife’s lawyer, Adam Kronfeld, asked the judge to reconsider, Gardiner conducted a deep dive into the history of the law. He found that before the Civil War, it also applied to slaves.
The judge then researched old rulings that governed custody disputes involving slaves and said he found parallels that forced him to reconsider whether the law should apply to embryos.
In a separate part of his opinion, Gardiner also said he erred when he initially concluded that human embryos cannot be sold.
“As there is no prohibition on the sale of human embryos, they may be valued and sold, and thus may be considered ‘goods or chattels,’” he wrote.
Crockin said she’s not aware of any other judge in the US who has concluded that human embryos can be bought and sold.
She said the trend, if anything, has been to recognize that embryos have to be treated in a more nuanced way than as mere property.
Ashby said he was baffled that Gardiner felt a need to delve into slavery to answer a question about embryos, even if Virginia case law is thin on how to handle embryo custody questions.
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