By Kathleen Gilbert

PORTLAND, Oregon, October 10, 2008 ( – The Oregon Court of Appeals on Wednesday denied a father’s appeal to keep his six frozen embryos alive, and ordered that the embryos be destroyed by thawing, as ordered by his ex-wife.  The court also ruled that the embryos’ fate fell under the issue of “property rights.”

The court unanimously agreed that the father, orthodontist Dr. Darrell Angle, had no right to “impose a genetic parental relationship” on his ex-wife, pediatrician Dr. Laura Dahl, who did not wish to be considered the mother of the preborn children in the event that they were carried to term.  Angle, on the other hand, insisted that the embryos were alive and deserved to be protected from destruction. 

In 2000, Drs. Angle and Dahl had married and given birth to a son, and in 2004 decided to conceive again via in-vitro fertilization (IVF) treatment at the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU).  The treatment failed, and six embryos were frozen for indefinite preservation.  The agreement signed by both parties named Dahl as the default decision-maker concerning the fate of the embryos, should the couple separate.

When the couple divorced soon after, Dahl indicated that she wished to destroy the embryos because she “did not want anyone else to raise her child,” and also feared that the child might one day contact his or her sibling, Dahl’s naturally-conceived son.  

Angle urged the court to reconsider, and said he could not stand to let the small human lives he had fathered be destroyed.

“There’s no pain greater than having participated in the demise of your own child,” said Angle. 

The court nonetheless ordered that the embryos be killed. 

Dr. Angle then appealed to a higher court to overrule the decision as an unfair distribution of property.  Angle argued that the OHSU agreement should be considered null and the embryos rightfully his, as his desire to save their lives was more valid than the wife’s desire to avoid the birth of another child belonging to her.

On the contrary, Dr. Dahl argued that the court should not favor Angle “in a way that could result in the birth of a child over the objections of a source of the genetic material,” as stated by the court document.

The court, while narrowly avoiding calling embryos “property,” decided that authority over the embryos did constitute a matter of private property, as Dr. Angle had argued.  However, the court ultimately ruled in favor of Dahl, and saw insufficient reason to override the OHSU agreement giving Dahl primary decision-making powers in regards to the fate of the embryos. 

The court appealed to several related state appellate court rulings as precedent, including Tennessee’s Davis v. Davis, which ruled “the husband’s interest in not procreating outweighed the wife’s interest in donating the eggs to another couple.”

The bizarre circumstances of the Oregon case are becoming commonplace, as more and more divorcing couples bring their battle over the possession or destruction of frozen embryos to U.S. courts.  According to some estimates, over 100,000 frozen embryos await either implantation or destruction in cryo-banks throughout the country, the leftover products of an exploding IVF industry.

To see the full Oregon Appeals Court document:

See related articles:

“Embryos are Humans” Says U.S. Government Report on Stem Cell Research

Why Embryo Destruction is Worse than Abortion

Chicago Court Rules Dead IVF Embryo a “Human Being”


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