Court Rules Mom Can Destroy Embryo Frozen Before Divorce Despite Dad's Battle To Stop It

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Custody cases can often get ugly, especially if a divorce is particularly heated. Most, however, don't reach the extremes of Jessica Bilbao and Timothy R. Goodwin, who went to court to determine if Bilbao had the right to destroy their remaining embryo, which was frozen before their divorce. Between them, the former couple already have seven children (most from previous relationships), but on Wednesday, a Connecticut Supreme Court ruled that there would be no more together, after it unanimously ruled in Bilbao's favor.

  • Bilbao and Goodwin froze two embryos soon after they were married in an attempt to conceive using in vitro fertilization.

    The National Catholic Register reported that the couple used one of the embryos to have their daughter Isabella in 2011 but kept a second embryo frozen in case they wanted to conceive another child together. 

    The couple already had children from previous relationships -- Bilbao had two sons and Goodwin had two sons and two daughters, according to the Daily Mail. When they visited the fertility clinic to conceive their first child, they signed a contract that stated in the event of a divorce, the remaining embryo would be destroyed.

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  • During the couple's divorce in 2016, Goodwin changed his mind, saying they should preserve the embryo in case he and Bilbao ever reconciled.

    Goodwin also argued that if he and his estranged wife didn't get back together, they should donate the embryo to another couple in need, according to the Hartford Courant, but Bilbao was sure she didn't want that to happen. 

    In October 2017, a lower court ruled that the storage agreement was not enforceable in the divorce case, but did decide that the embryos fell under marital property, during which they awarded the embryo to Bilbao.

    Goodwin later filed an appeal, arguing that embryos are not property and asserting that the court should have ruled in his favor “as the party seeking to preserve the pre-embryos, because they are human beings," the Hartford Courant reported.

  • The couple headed to the state's highest court Wednesday to finally settle the matter.

    The court did not address whether it believed the embryo was considered a human life, but its unanimous decision written up by Justice Gregory D’Auria relied heavily on the storage facility agreement to settle the matter. According to D'Auria, the contract was enforceable, though he would not directly answer the matter of whether the court considered the embryo as a human life.

    “Because we conclude that the parties in this case had an enforceable agreement, we do not decide what a court must do in the absence of an enforceable agreement,” D'Auria wrote. “For example, we leave for another day whether, in the absence of an enforceable agreement, balancing or contemporaneous mutual consent is the appropriate approach, and what the details of such an approach would entail.”

    The court also stated that Goodwin, who had been representing himself throughout the divorce proceedings, had not brought up the issue of preserving life in the initial trial court, so it was therefore not reviewable in his appeal.

    “Whether a pre-embryo is a human being is, at least in part, a question of fact,” the Supreme Court said. “It is certainly not a question an appellate court can determine without some measure of fact-finding.”

divorce