Infertility in The Media: Cryopreservation

My husband was watching “The Rookie” (Season 1 Episode 13 · Caught Stealing), and my ears perked up when I hear the words “fertility center.” The plot line is about a lesbian couple that separated, and one partner stole the embryos from the center. There are two great aspects to talk about here, and both get a thumbs-down from me for how they were portrayed.

The officers briefly discuss whether this should be considered a burglary or an abduction. The physician mentions the couple’s separation and “custody dispute.” Sofia Vergara probably wasn’t the first woman in this scenario, but certainly got the most press coverage. After her separation from Nick Loeb in 2014, he made multiple attempts to be allowed to transfer embryos they had created together to a gestational carrier. What drew the infertility community’s attention was his attempt to present his case in Louisiana as a custody dispute instead of the property dispute it was filed as initially in California. He actually established trust funds in the “names” of the embryos. Not only did Loeb lose his case, but he was also fined by the courts for “jurisdiction shopping” (although it seems he still plans to appeal to the supreme court of Louisiana.) The legal precedent in the US is for embryo disputes to be handled as property during a separation, not custody. In fact, many centers are circumventing this dilemma by requiring couples to sign agreements when they undergo IVF, indicating the disposition of the embryos in the case of separation or the death of one parent.

It should be noted that going back to The Rookie, the doctor’s mention that both partners were female and that one had no biological gametes in the embryos is pretty irrelevant if the couple had a legally binding agreement in place.                                       

This is just somewhat of a pet peeve of mine, but when the police get to the home address, the couple is playing tug of war with a set of frosty test tubes, and “the clock is ticking” because if the embryos are not returned to the center soon, they’ll be compromised! Embryos are microscopic- they thaw in under 5 seconds. And also because of their size, they’re not stored in test tubes. They’re stored in devices more like coffee stirrers with a Slurpee-spooned tip. If you’re going to steal embryos, you need to steal a cryotank filled with liquid nitrogen as well to keep them stable at -196O C.                   

This is actually my favorite part of Orphan Black’s interesting presentation of IVF- in Season 3, Helena escapes the lab with her “science babies” in a cryotank, and after a few episodes of carrying them around, I’m thinking “that’s not how that works….” Then poor Helena buries the cryotank in the garden and buries her babies, apologizing that she didn’t know she needed to feed them liquid nitrogen.

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