Supreme Court to Tackle IVF in Social Security Benefits Case

LLDF Weighs in on “the Rest of the Story” on IVF

What do a filmmaker, a board member of NOW, a reproductive endocrinologist, two bloggers, and a pro-life legal group have in common? They all teamed up on a filing Monday in the U.S. Supreme Court in a case involving children conceived by in vitro fertilization (IVF). The friend-of-the-court brief the Life Legal Defense Foundation (LLDF) filed is designed to educate the Court about the “array of serious dangers” IVF poses to women, children, and society at large. Read more here.

The Supreme Court is hearing a case, Astrue v. Capato, No. 11-159, in which a widow seeks Social Security survivor benefits for the twins conceived by IVF and born after her husband’s death. Lower federal courts are divided on the question whether such posthumously conceived children are entitled to benefits under the Social Security Act, and the Supreme Court is expected to settle the question in a ruling this spring. And while the case presents fairly dry and complicated legal questions of statutory interpretation, the context of the case – children conceived and born through IVF technology after their father had passed away from cancer – makes this the first case in which the Supreme Court will confront this new reproductive technology.

“We felt this was an educable moment for the Court,” said Catherine Short, counsel of record on the brief. “There’s a huge dearth of appreciation for the ugly underbelly of IVF. This case presents a unique opportunity to educate the Court on this issue, lest the Court in ignorance bestow some unqualified praise upon IVF as a practice.”

Continued Short: “The Court benefits greatly from hearing points of view that might not otherwise be expressed. Here, neither the mother of the IVF twins nor the DOJ have any reason to speak ill of IVF. That’s where we provide a key supplemental voice.”

The brief emphasizes that children conceived by IVF are fully human and entitled to love and respect just like any other children. But the brief also cautions the Court that IVF comes with a package of very significant downsides, including physical and emotional risks to both the IVF child and the genetic mother, the routine creation and destruction or freezing of untold numbers of “spare” human embryos, the deconstruction of the family, and the unleashing of an exploitative industry that can prey upon vulnerable women.

The five friends of the court appearing on the brief are:
(1) Jennifer Lahl, documentary filmmaker and producer of Eggsploitation, an exposé of the IVF industry’s exploitation of human egg providers;
(2) Kathleen Sloan, NOW board member and veteran activist for women’s rights;
(3) Kathleen R. LaBounty, conceived by donor sperm, blogger on donor conception;
(4) Stephanie Blessing, also conceived by donor sperm and blogging on her situation; and,
(5) Anthony J. Caruso, M.D., MPH, a former IVF practitioner who oversaw more than 1,000 IVF procedures but has since renounced the practice.

The Supreme Court is scheduled to hear the case on March 19, with a decision likely to follow in June.

Read the LLDF brief.