Friday, August 10, 2007

Traditional Surrogacy Custody Battle in Florida

Surrogate Custody Battle Continues For Seminole Co. Couple Monday, August 06, 2007
A judge denied Tom and Gwyn Lamitina’s motion Friday for temporary custody and visitation rights in a custody battle with a surrogate mother in Jacksonville.
The Lamitina's, who reside in Seminole County, said they found Stephanie Eckard on a Web site called Surrogate Mothers Online. The Lamitina’s entered into a traditional surrogacy using Eckard's egg.
The couple alleges Eckard decided to keep the baby, and began demanding child support, health insurance and additional life insurance for the child. Eckard's attorney said she told the Lamitina's she wanted to keep the child before it was born. A final hearing will be held at a later date to determine final custody and how much child support Eckard is entitled to, if any.

challenging decision for couples with leftover embryos

Couples with leftover embryos face ethical, legal dilemma-By Yonat ShimronMcClatchy NewspapersPublished on: 07/27/07

Yonat Shimron — A storage tank at a University of North Carolina fertility clinic holds five frozen embryos belonging to Tim and Kelly Jo Vancelette.
The Vancelettes had these embryos created in 2003 to start a family when they could not conceive on their own. In 2004, their twins, Abby and Alex, were conceived using in vitro fertilization. In 2006, Kylie was conceived naturally.

A storage sleeve holds small vials that contain embryos that are preserved in liquid nitrogen at the Duke Fertility Center in Durham, North Carolina.

Doug Raburn, an embryologist and lab director at the Duke Fertility Center, looks in on the lineup of vacuum flasks that contain embryos and sperm samples from clients.

Now the Vancelettes are faced with an increasingly common dilemma: what to do with their unused embryos.
Their choices are limited. With a ban on federal funding for embryonic stem cell research, they have few avenues for scientific donations. They could give the fertilized eggs to another couple, they could have the embryos destroyed, or they could freeze them.
For now, they're freezing them. The Vancelettes think they may want one more child, though they probably won't need five embryos for that. The couple frequently talks about their options, especially when they get the $250 storage bill each year. So far, they have not come up with a good solution.
Like thousands of other couples who go through in vitro fertilization each year, the Vancelettes have decided not to decide. They've reluctantly found themselves at the center of an explosive political and moral debate about the status of embryos — one that pits President Bush and two of the nation's largest religious groups against a majority of Americans who favor using human embryos to develop cures for diseases.
"You go into it thinking 'I want a baby,' not 'I will have all these moral and ethical issues,'" said Kelly Jo Vancelette, who added that she would seriously consider donating to science.500,000 embryos may be in limbo
A 2002 study by the RAND Corp. estimated that 400,000 frozen embryos are stored in the nation's fertility clinics. Given that thousands more in vitro procedures have been performed since then, the number is likely to top 500,000 now.
Most of these embryos are a consequence of in vitro fertilization — a process in which a dozen eggs are aspirated from a woman's ovaries and joined with sperm in a petri dish. Doctors harvest more eggs than needed for a single pregnancy because it may take several tries before an embryo implants in the uterus.
Remaining embryos are stored in liquid nitrogen at minus 321 degrees Fahrenheit as couples wrestle with the so-called "disposition decision." Increasingly, many couples choose to bank them.
"People have trouble letting go," said Dr. Stan Beyler, lab director at the University of North Carolina's Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Clinic. "They don't want to have any more kids. They don't want to have the embryos destroyed. They don't want to give them to anyone else. So they're in limbo."
A recent study by researchers from Duke University and Johns Hopkins University found that given a choice, 60 percent of patients who had undergone in vitro fertilization would like to donate unused embryos to stem cell research. Stem cells from embryos can form into any cell of the body, holding promise for combating Parkinson's disease, spinal cord injuries and stroke.Stem cell labs are few
But few places across the country do stem-cell research. In part, that's because there's no federal funding for it. Bush has twice vetoed legislation that would provide federal money for stem cell research on grounds that it would destroy the embryo, which he views as destroying human life.
While a handful of states went ahead and appropriated money for such research, actual lab studies on embryonic stem cells are scattered and few.
"No one really wants the embryos right now," said Dr. Sameh Toma, medical director at the North Carolina Center for Reproductive Medicine. "There's no one to donate them to."
Consent policies vary from clinic to clinic, but couples who want to donate their unused embryos toward such research often have to find a lab willing to take them and pay shipping costs.
At Toma's clinic, couples are not given the option to donate the embryos for research unless they specifically ask for it. Instead, the research option falls under the broader category of destroying the embryo, which is what scientific research ultimately does.
Arthur L. Caplan, a leading bioethicist at the University of Pennsylvania, decries the "howlingly obvious ethical inconsistency" surrounding embryonic stem cell research. On the one hand, clinics destroy embryos every day. On the other hand, scientists can't use those embryos destined for destruction for research.
"People who object to embryonic stem cell research have done nothing to shut down clinics that destroy embryos every day," he said.Politics at play
Most scientists look forward to an end to the federal funding embargo, and many think that it could happen after Bush leaves office in January 2009. Leading Democrats and Republicans running for president have expressed support for embryonic stem-cell research.
Even if federal funding becomes available, the demand for embryos may not be immediate. The science is still new, and it will take time before researchers are able to use embryonic stem cells in medical applications, some say.
"There isn't a great need for frozen embryos right now," said Brigid Hogan, chairwoman of Duke's Department of Cell Biology, who studies embryonic stem cells in mice.
Some clinics have been more successful with another kind of embryo donation — to another couple. At the North Carolina Center for Reproductive Medicine, a dozen babies have been born to women who received donated embryos in the 10 years since the center started the program.
Still, most couples are leery of donating their embryos to another couple.
"These will turn into our kids," said Kelly Jo Vancelette. "They may one day ask, 'Why didn't you keep us?'"
Federal legislation approved in 2005 further complicates embryo donation. The Food and Drug Administration views embryos as donated tissue, much like a kidney. As such, donors must undergo blood tests both before and after the egg is fertilized to rule out diseases such as hepatitis and AIDS. Many couples who have already gone through weeks of grueling hormone treatments don't want to undergo more medical screenings.
That leaves most couples with two options: destroy the embryos or keep them indefinitely. Into this mix fall moral considerations about the status of the embryo. The Roman Catholic Church and the Southern Baptist Convention — the nation's two largest religious groups — both view embryos as human life and therefore, oppose their destruction. Infertile Catholic couples are taught to shun assisted reproduction altogether and adopt a child instead.
Regardless of religion, most couples recognize that the embryo holds the promise of human life.
"I sort of consider them my kids, and I sort of don't," Kelly Jo Vancelette said. "They're our babies to be."
Some willing to donate to research
Another parent likened her five frozen embryos to a set of opportunities that would allow her and her husband to expand their family if they choose.
"I worked incredibly hard for those seven embryos," said Elisabeth Morray, 31, mother of newborn twins Julian and Isabelle, who were conceived after fertility treatment. "I feel like they're an investment in our future."
Morray said she did not consider the frozen embryos living entities but rather potentially living entities. As such, she said she would not hesitate to donate them to research.
These deeply personal views of the embryo are a major reason many couples struggle with their disposition decision. And those struggles are affecting more people. In 2005, there were 132,242 U.S. procedures using assisted reproductive technology, according to preliminary figures from the Centers for Disease Control. That's more than double the 59,142 procedures in 1995.
Doctors don't have any easy solutions.
"We know that when couples start down this path they're so focused on having a child," said Dr. David K. Walmer, director of the Duke Fertility Clinic. "You can give them all the counseling you want. They're not focused on it. They just want to make it work."
Kelly Jo Vancelette is proof of that.
"Once I got it into my head I wanted a baby, nothing was going to stop me," she said. "I will take all these moral and ethical dilemmas people throw at me." Having a baby, she added, is "worth it."
Researchers from Duke and Johns Hopkins universities asked 2,210 in vitro fertilization patients what they would like to do with their unused embryos. Of the 1,244 who responded:
• 49 percent said they preferred to donate them to science.
• 60 percent said they preferred to donate them for stem cell research.
• 63 percent of the women preferred stem cell donation.
• 51 percent of the men chose stem cell donation.
• 22 percent said they were somewhat or very likely to donate them to another couple.
• A similar percentage said they preferred to destroy the embryos.
What happens to unused embryos?
United Kingdom: They are destroyed five years after their creation, although exceptions are made.
Italy: Law passed in 2004 prohibits destruction of embryos. All embryos created during in vitro fertilization (to a legal maximum of three) must be transferred to the woman's womb.
Spain: It is legal to freeze embryos but illegal to destroy them or donate them to research. Because most couples prefer not to donate their embryos to other patients, 50,000 embryos now sit unused in frozen storage.
Germany: No more than three eggs can be collected from a patient for in vitro fertilization. All embryos created must be transferred to the patient.
Denmark: Allows embryos to be stored for 24 months. Recent legislation allows for stem cell research and treatment. Embryo donation to another couple is illegal.
Australia: Embryos may be frozen for up to 2 years, donated to another couple or destroyed.
Belgium: Embryos may be stored for no more than 5 years, donated to a couple or destroyed.
These states either encourage or support embryonic stem cell research:
• California
• Connecticut
• Maryland
• Massachusetts
• New Jersey
• Illinois
• Washington
• Wisconsin

Three sisters help conceive a second baby

Three sisters join forces to conceive a second baby
LUCY LAING - Last updated at 22:41pm on 5th August 2007

Two women who joined forces to produce a baby for their infertile sister hope to make history by performing the same feat again.
Alex Patrick, 34, has a two-year-old son, Charlie, conceived from an egg donated by her twin, Charlotte Pestell, and carried by her elder sister Helen Ritchie, 37.
Now the trio will attempt a surrogacy first by repeating the process.
Mrs Pestell said: "We have some frozen embryos left from last time, so hopefully I won't have to donate any more. But if I need to, I will.
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Charlie with his three 'mothers': Egg donor Charlotte (left), Alex (centre), and Helen, who carried him
"Helen is happy to carry the second baby, and our husbands are all happy again for us to do it again and help Alex have a little brother or sister for Charlie."
The extraordinary process started when Mrs Patrick, 34 , was diagnosed with cervical cancer in November 1999. Doctors told her that the chemotherapy treatment she needed could leave her infertile.
Mrs Patrick, an environmental consultant, who lives in South East London with husband Shaun, 41, an engineer, said: "Being told that I would never have a baby hit me almost as hard as the diagnosis itself."
Her treatment was a success, but she remained devastated to be unable to have a family.
She said: "Every time I saw a baby, I was just filled with longing to be a mother."
Her twin Charlotte, who has three children aged four, six and nine, offered to donate her eggs to Alex, but because of her cancer treatment she could not carry a baby to full term, and Charlotte had suffered problems with her own pregnancies.
So elder sister Helen stepped in and offered to carry the baby, using Mrs Pestell's donated eggs. Mrs Pestell said: "I would have found it difficult to carry a child that had been conceived from my eggs, and then give it up.
"By Helen carrying the baby, it would mean that it wasn't biologically connected to her in any way, so it would be easier for her to hand over to Alex. Helen was happy to carry the baby - we all called her the "tummy mummy".
The treatment began in 2004. Six of Mrs Pestell's eggs were fertilised with Mr Patrick's sperm, and two days later two embryos were implanted into Mrs Ritchie's womb.
Mrs Patrick said: "We got together two weeks later and when the pregnancy test was positive we all burst into tears, including our husbands."
Mrs Ritchie, who has two sons aged nine and seven, went into labour in June 2005 at her home in Bath, Somerset.
Mrs Pestell said: "Helen didn't even have time to get to hospital. Charlie was delivered in her front room, with Alex holding her hand. She handed the baby over to Alex."
Mrs Ritchie, a nanny, who lives with her husband Phil, 45, a freelance driver, said: "I wanted to see Alex happy.
"We thought it would be easier for me to carry the baby as it wasn't my eggs. It did feel strange at times, but it also felt natural."
Mrs Pestell added: "We had to have counselling to talk through the surrogacy. The counsellor asked me what I would do if Charlie ever turned up on my doorstep after a row with Alex and asking to live with me.
"I would send him straight home to his mum. He may have been created using my eggs, but he's Alex's child."

Irish Court rules in favor of sperm donor

Irish court sides with sperm donor over lesbian moms

A man who donated his sperm to a lesbian couple won a legal fight Thursday to keep his biological son in Ireland.
The judgment by Ireland's supreme court was a first in the nation, a predominantly Roman Catholic country where the rights of same-sex couples and sperm donors have not been spelled out. Now the couple, wed in a civil union ceremony in England, cannot spend long periods in Australia with their 14-month-old boy as planned but can only vacation there for up to six weeks.
Another courtroom battle between the man and the couple looms over joint custody of the boy.
Two justices, Susan Denham and Joseph Finnegan, ruled that the toddler's best interests required him to stay in Ireland near his biological father. The third judge, Justice Nial Fennelly, disagreed, arguing that no evidence was offered that the boy would be harmed by leaving Ireland.
''The case is utterly unique and unprecedented,'' Fennelly wrote in his dissent, noting that the parental rights of neither sperm donors nor lesbian couples are defined in Irish law.
Neither side has been publicly identified, following Ireland's policy of granting anonymity to family law litigants.
The lesbian couple—an Irish woman and an Australian—exchanged vows in January 2006, just after same-sex civil unions were legalized in the United Kingdom. The Irish woman was pregnant by the Irish sperm donor, who signed a contract giving him visitation rights.
The boy, born in May 2006, has his biological father's name as his middle name, and the lesbian couple initially granted the man regular visits. But tensions quickly grew, both sides' lawyers agreed.
The couple restricted the man's access to the boy, then announced they planned to go to Australia for up to a year. The man filed two lawsuits—one to restrict the trip and another seeking joint custody. The custody case is to be heard this fall.
Thursday's verdict upheld a judgment by high court justice Henry Abbott, who ruled the lesbian couple could take the boy to Australia for six weeks. The supreme court held that until the custody claim is considered, the boy should travel outside Ireland for only a limited period. (Shawn Pogatchnik, AP)