A lower court had ruled the contract was unenforceable and had granted ownership of the embryos as property to the woman, Jessica Bilbao. Her now ex-husband, Timothy Goodwin, had sought to preserve the embryos in case the couple reconciled or to have them donated for eventual adoption if they did not.
The Supreme Court declined to rule on Goodwin's argument that embryos are human lives and cannot be the subject of such a contract. The court used the term pre-embryos in referring to them in the ruling.
Goodwin's attorney, Joseph Secola, said the justices side-stepped the issue of when life begins by finding that his client had failed to raise any argument during the divorce trial that the embryos could not be considered property.
Secola said that the husband and wife both represented themselves during the divorce and the court should have at least ordered a hearing to determine if the embryos had rights as people. "Just relying on fact that there is a contract, given that human life is present, is just too simplistic," he said. "That's where I disagree with the court."
Secola said because the ruling dealt with state law, he does not see an opportunity to appeal. Bilbao declined to comment through her attorney Justice Gregory T. D'Auria wrote that the ruling applies only to "contracts that, if enforced, will not result in procreation" and does not address a scenario in which a contract would force someone to become a genetic parent against their wishes.
He also noted that the court did not decide what should happen to frozen embryos in a case where there is no contract. Secola said eight other states have had similar rulings which upheld contracts with fertility clinics for the disposal of embryos. Other state have laws or have courts that have ruled such contracts are not enforceable, he said. Fewer than 15 states have addressed the issue, Secola said.
"It's going to be coming up more and more because we have this technology and the technology seems to out run our ability to consider all the issues with it," he said.