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Are frozen embryos considered living persons? Appeals court to hear case Wednesday

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Posted at 8:14 PM, Mar 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-28 16:02:48-04

CLEVELAND — On Wednesday, the 8th Ohio District Court of Appeals will hear oral arguments in a case that could set precedent across the country — are frozen embryos considered living persons?

Rick and Wendy Penniman were among 950 families impacted when the fertility clinic failure occurred at University Hospitals’ Ahuja Medical Center in 2018.

Four thousand eggs and embryos were destroyed. The Penniman family lost three embryos.

The couple filed a lawsuit last year, arguing that their frozen embryos were living persons. A Cuyahoga County judge dismissed the case.

On Wednesday, their attorney Bruce Taubman will deliver oral arguments in front of a three-judge panel.

“I’m going to argue that the law in Ohio is not definitive on when life begins,” Taubman said, adding that he will use modern science to make part of his case. “I want them to declare that embryos are people.”

Taubman, who has been practicing law for 43 years, said he has never had a case like this before and the implications can be far-reaching.

“Because it will help determine when life begins and that’s always been an age-old question,” Taubman said.

Browne Lewis is a law professor at Cleveland State University and an expert on reproductive issues.

“I think what’s unique about this couple is, I don’t think it is politics, I don’t think it is money. I think they sincerely consider these to be babies, so in their mind, somebody has killed their children,” Lewis said.

But, Lewis said, she believes the chances that the judges rule in favor of the Penniman family are slim.

“I think it’s very slim because of Roe v. Wade,” Lewis said “Because once you start saying these embryos are people, then you have to say fetuses are people and then abortion becomes murder.”

Lewis said this is an area of law that is largely unregulated.

“So these issues come up all the time. And the law has not kept up with the advancement in reproductive technology. We can do so much help people have children and there are consequences,” Lewis said. “The law hasn’t addressed those consequences. And we have to figure out, how do you put a value on something that is priceless?”

Taubman said the Pennimans are wiling to take the case all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, if necessary.

University Hospitals sent News 5 the following statement:

“We are sorry for the loss the Penniman family has experienced. We will continue to address the litigation based on Ohio statutes and case law.”

RELATED: University Hospitals facing 117 lawsuits after fertility clinic malfunction

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