Assited Reproductive Technology

First Test Tube Baby’s Mother Dies

What a sad day.  The woman who thought she would never give birth to a child, back in the 1970s, when there was no such thing as a “test tube baby” has died. The NY times has published a very nice overview (http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/24/health/lesley-brown-mother-of-first-test-tube-baby-dies-at-64.html).

These days we take artificial insemination for granted.  But the truth is, it is still a tedious, imperfect and very expensive process.  The field has expanded enormously to include frozen embryos, surrogate pregnancy and even the possibility of “designer babies”.  All fascinating ideas and the subject of much discussion regarding morality, ethics and of course, legality.  The entire new field of law, often referred to as ART, for Artificial Reproductive Technology, is fascinating. The Family Law Section on the American Bar Association, which I currently Chair, has seen its membership increase and it’s attendance increase since this issue has grown.  Our seminars and our publications now spend significant time covering these topics, and the professionals in this field, are highly motivated.  They are on the cutting edge.  The entire Family Law Section, the entire American Bar Association, and in fact, the entire country (and yes, the legal world) benefit from the work these professionals are doing.  They are trying to chart courses in previously unnavigated waters.  What a challenge, what a responsibility and what a blessing to have folks motivated to try so hard to get it right, to do the right thing.  They did not invent these issues, but are trying ensure we can all work with them and understand the rights of parents, children and perhaps even rights of embryos. I do not intend to start a philosophical or religious or moral debate, but the absence of any law in this area until our generation makes the work that much more crucial.  I am looking forward to new developments every day, and again thank Lesley Brown and the others who advanced this field and allowed people who otherwise may never have experienced the joy of parenting their own biological child, to do so.


Thanks for the opportunity.

I am now a few months into my year as Chair of the American Bar Association’s Family Law Section. Wow, it goes fast. There seem to be fires to put out every week (or every day), but we have great staff at the ABA that really make things easier. There are budget concerns, planning of Continuing Legal Education Events, policy issues and the like. But most of all, there is a sense of responsibility that our group, our Family Law Section has a responsibility; a responsibilty to help. There are issues with military family law matters that we are addressing as well international custody issues (which will be discussed heavily at our Annual Fall Meeting in Las Vegas in two weeks; to see a link to the brochure, click here).

I said in my first Chair’s Column in the Family Advocate and in my speech as I became Chair, that I want to help everyone: lawyers, clients and others, understand the family law process better (chairs column1). Knowledge is power and we should all be as knowledgable as we can about the laws that so vitally affect families, especially children. I look forward to the seminar in two weeks and to making this and future years great and helpful to all lawyers and people, and especially to those dedicated to the field of family law and to helping those with family law problems.


ABA FLS Brochure available now

The American Bar Association, Family Law Section’s Fall CLE Brochure is out and available on line (click here to view it). The seminar will be held in Law Vegas at the Encore (Wynn) Hotel October 26-29, 2011.

We have worked hard to develop an exciting and educational program. Topics include: “Saving a Stolen Childhood: How to Prevent and Resolve International Kidnapping Cases,” and “Diminishing Returns: Effects of Illness, Psychological Problems, and Addiction on Support Calculations”.

The speakers and program producers have worked very hard to organize and create this exciting program and we hope you will join us. Please pull up the brochure, sign up and join us. Again, click here for the brochure: BROCHURE.


New DNA Testing Claims Paternity Can Be Determined ASAP

For years DNA testing could reveal the paternity of a child after birth. Then came pre-birth testing. Now comes DNA testing in the twelfth week of pregnancy. This is a game changer. Read the story by clicking here.

Conceivably now, a couple could learn the paternity of their child in the first trimester of pregnancy, when termination of the pregnancy is legal in most places. Just think of the issues this raises. If the pregnancy is the result of an extra marital, or extra relational encounter, does this make it more likely that a pregnancy will be terminated? What if technology and science progress to the point where paternity can be established “the morning after” or at one month of pregnancy?

And perhaps the ability to know who the father is, so early on, will encourage more mothers-to-be to tell their partner that there may be doubt about the paternity of their expected child. Or at least the mother-to-be could get a test with her paramour and hopefully exclude him as the father early on, thereby perhaps saving her relationship with her husband or significant other?

This new technology, if accurate, could change many lives and many relationships. Some say ignorance is bliss. This may be one such occasion?


ABA Family Law Section CLE set for October in Vegas

While we all look forward to the Annual ABA meeting in Toronto next month, plans have been underway for a while for the Fall Family Law Seminar.

I hope everyone is as excited as I am about the Fall Program which is being held at the Encore (Wynne) Hotel in Las Vegas in October. We have a tremendous line up of topics, including: “Saving a Stolen Childhood: How to Prevent and Resolve International Kidnapping Cases”, “Diminishing Returns: Effects of Illness, Psychological Problems & Addiction on Support Calculations” and “Tax Issues Faced by Alternative Families… A Mystery of Clues!” as well as fun topics like “Mission Impossible — Obtaining Discovery from Casinos”.

The location is amazing; the nicest hotel in Vegas, at an incredibly low rate ($204.00/night). Come join us and bring your family too. It will be a great seminar and a great place to meet fellow family law attorneys. And if there is anything I can do for you, before, during or after the program, please let me know. I look forward to seeing you there.


New law-Custody for Military Families

A new law was enacted this week in the Georgia Legislature. It grants certain protections to military personnel in their custody and visitation disputes. An AJC article outlines it well (click here for the article). The bill was passed with overwhelming support and prevents final orders changing custody to be entered simply because a parent is deployed. A draft of the proposed Act can be accessed by clicking here.

For years advocates for military personnel have complained that armed services members were often penalized for simply serving our country. The delicate balance is between rights of those serving our country and the best interests of children. No answer will be perfect for every situation, but this bill was drafted, considered, reviewed, debated and finally passed. No law is perfect, but hopefully this law will help military families and their children, and hopefully does not reduce the emphasis that must always be placed on ensuring that we do what is in the best interests of the child.


International child related issues on the rise.

As the Chair Elect of the ABA’s Family Law Section, I have made it clear that one of my priorities will be to focus on international custody issues. Given the many widely reported cases of international kidnapping and custody battles, such as the Goldman case, it seems we must focus more on these situations to protect all children.

But now there are much more complex issues relating to children across the globe which go beyond mere custody battles. Issues such as surrogacy and adoption. What if one country’s laws do not allow for a certain type of adoption or a certain type of articifial insemination? There are now ways to work around laws in one country by using another country as a vehicle for certain procedures. And this can be dangerous.

A recent Wall Street Journal article entitled “Assembling the Global Baby” discussed these issues in fine detail (click here for a link to the story). There are American companies orchestrating surrogacy and reproductive technology across the globe. While the term “orchestrating” may sound negative, that was not my intent. My intent was to demonstrate the internationalization of child related issues. What body or organization will set the rules? Is this something for the United Nations to look at? Conferences like The Hague will certainly look at these issues, but then a country’s willingness to sign a treaty is purely voluntary.

This internationalization of child birth, adoption and reproduction may be a very good thing. It seems very well intended. The problem is with the unintended consequences. When things go wrong, who is accountable? Which country’s laws apply? Is it more important where the birth occurs, where the semen was taken, where the parties live or which country the egg came from? These are fascinating issues that we must consider before they overwhelm us. I have no idea where we go from here, but I am sure that we need to start asking the right questions which will hopefully lead us to the right answers, or at least to the right forums and formats for seeking comprehensive answers to these emerging issues.


Recalling the first test tube baby

In 1978. That was the first time in the history of the world that a child was conceived outside of a mother’s body (an egg being fertilized in a dish), and then successfully carried through pregnancy to life by the mother. Until then, we were always certain that if a mother delivered a child, it was her biological child since her egg was fertizlized within her body, even if the sperm was donated. In 1978, everything changed. The child was Baby Louise and her story can be found via an easy internet search (you can read more about her story by clcking here). That was the start of successful in vitro fertilzation and the start of a brand new area of law.

I write about this since a guest lecturer for the Domestic Relations Law School course I teach discussed it last night. Ruth Claiborne is a leader in the legal field of assisted reproductive technology (ART) and her insights made for an exciting and interesting class.

From that day back in 1978, the field of ART has exploded. So have legal quandries surrounding it. Frozen embryos, inheritance by an embryo, custody battles between a surrogate mother and the biological mother, adoption of children not yet born and other legal quagmires have made this area of the law fascinating. There is a growing interest in ART among lawyers and non-lawyers. At our Spring and Fall ABA Family Law Section seminars, we are seeing more and more programs dealing with these topics. The leaders in this field, including attorney Steven Snyder and Professor Charles Kindregan and many others have generously given their time and talent to educating other lawyers about this new and emerging are of the law.

And these issues are everywhere. They have impacted almost every area of family law. For instance, some opponents of gay marriage used to argue that marriage was only for people who could procreate. Well that argument is now gone, or severely dimished since a same sex couple can now have a baby using donated sperm or a donated egg.

By no means am I an expert in this area. To the contrary, I still feel often like a little boy in science class learning new things. Last night during my law school class, I had that feeling again, and it was great.