Frozen human embryos can be considered property or “assets,” according to the ruling of a judge, who based his decision in part on a 19th-century law governing the treatment of slaves.
As reported by NBC Bay Area, the preliminary opinion of the Judge of the District of Fairfax County, in Virginia, Richard Gardiner, in the framework of a long dispute between a divorced couple, is criticized by some for meddling, wrongly, in a time in history of Virginia when it was allowed to own human beings.
“It’s repulsive and morally repugnant,” said Susan Crokin, a lawyer and professor at Georgetown University’s Kennedy Institute.
THE CASE ORIGINATED IN A DISTRICT COURT IN VIRGINIA
Solomon Ashby, president of the Old Dominion Bar Association, an umbrella organization for black lawyers, called the ruling problematic.
“I would like to think that the court and the association would be looking for more modern precedents,” he said.
Initially, Judge Gardiner sided with Jason Heidemann. The law in this case governs how to divide property and real estate. The judge ruled that because the embryos cannot be bought or sold, they could not be considered as such, so Honeyhline Heidemann had no recourse under the law to claim custody.
But after the ex-wife’s attorney, Adam Kronefld, asked the judge to reconsider, Gardiner did extensive research into the history of the law. And he found that before the Civil War, it also applied to slaves. The judge investigated old rulings governing slave custody disputes, 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 said he was wrong when he initially said that embryos cannot be sold.
“And since there is no prohibition on the sale of human embryos, they can be valued and sold, and thus, they can be considered ‘assets,'” he wrote.