A life frozen in time? Sofia Vergara’s custody battle over half-fertilized embryos

Sofia Vergara has embarked on a full custody battle over, guess what, her frozen embryos.  Ex-fiancé, Nick Loeb has declared he doesn’t want the embryos destroyed and now wants to fight for his right to them.                                                                                             

Reports have confirmed that Vergara never wanted to destroy the embryos, but keep them frozen indefinitely. While it is indeed a huge debate, who can really decide the owner of a developing embryo?

The Debate: When does life begin?

This case brings about a lot of questions that haven’t been answered when it comes to reproductive technology, in this case In Vitro Fertilization [IVF]. When does life begin? Are these embryos alive?

Vergara and Loeb attempted to finish the process with two surrogate mothers but both implantations were unsuccessful.

One of the by-products of IVF treatment is the creation of ‘supernumerary embryos’ or pre-embryos. As part of the procedure, more embryos are brought into existence than actually used. The remaining embryos are frozen to be used later if the first trial proves unsuccessful or if the couple wants another child. In Vergara’s case, it was not specifically decided what to do with the frozen embryos.

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Frozen Embryos: Also An Ethical Debate

This debate could be deemed of the most controversial when it comes to reproductive technology. Are doctors truly advising patients on the after-effects of these types of procedures, should the patients change their minds?

Ethical question arise from a medical standpoint. The accumulation of frozen embryos has resulted in hundreds, perhaps thousands of embryos stocked in the freezers of large fertility clinics. What is the fate of these embryos? Is it ethical to keep them frozen for the rest of time, should patients discard them?

Legal issues arise when embryos are frozen before implantation, and couples separate, which leads to disagreement over what should be done with them.

The question is who has the right to these embryos, once they’re ‘frozen in time’? Scientists have analyzed that frozen embryos can last up to 20 years, talk about commitment. On top of that, the cost of storing them can be up to $1,000 a year, mere pennies for a celebrity like Vergara, but still a consideration.

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Male v. Female Fertility Issues

A women’s fertility decreases much more rapidly than a man’s, and the procedure of harvesting eggs from a woman is much more intense than donating sperm, but this doesn’t necessarily give a woman ownership over these pre-embryos.

It's importance to look at the medical perspective for both men and women. We can conclude Vergara and Loeb both have a case.

While we know that a woman’s eggs age much faster than a man’s sperm, the count does begin to decrease at age 30, with testosterone levels dropping about 1% each year after.

While it is commonly thought that men can have children throughout their entire lives —Charlie Chaplin comes to mind having his last child at age 73— it'd not always the case. The truth is the quantity of sperm isn’t the problem, it’s the quality as men age.

According to Melissa Brisman, lawyer and owner of the firm Reproductive Possibilities, judges have ruled in favor of the person who wishes not to use the embryos —in this case Vergara—ninety-five percent of the time, in cases across America.

Will the debate over who owns frozen embryos be concluded at the end of this case?         We'll be watching.