A very Modern Family problem

The last 19 months have seen increasingly acrimonious proceedings between Sofia Vergara, the Colombian actress from the U.S. sitcom Modern Family, and her ex-fiancé over what should happen to two embryos that followed IVF treatment. 

Vergara wanted the embryos to remain frozen, whilst Nick Loeb, her former partner, wanted the embryos to be implanted in a surrogate so that he could then raise the children alone. Loeb brought an action in Louisiana as did an unknown party purportedly representing the embryos as plaintiffs.

That Vergara stars in Modern Family is fitting for a dispute that is symbolic of modern family issues. Medical advances mean that family structures are constantly evolving but such advances also create greater potential for disagreement. In the UK, the clinic where IVF treatment is carried out will ask the couple to sign consent forms covering issues such as the use of the embryos in the future, how long the embryos should be stored and what should happen to them in the event that one of the couple dies. However, consent can be withdrawn at any time prior to the embryos being implanted - which is precisely the situation that has arisen in the Vergara-Loeb case.

The Judge in Louisiana has ruled that the courts there have no jurisdiction to determine matters relating to embryos created in California; the Judge specifically noted that it is likely that Loeb brought his claim in Louisiana simply because of the laws there pertaining to the rights of unborn children. It remains to be seen whether Loeb might yet try to bring a further action in California and, in circumstances where it is reported that the couple signed an agreement that neither could take action over the embryos without the other's consent, the case has provided interesting insight as to how the courts, albeit in Louisiana, deal with issues of consent when disputes arise between a couple despite an agreement having been signed. 

If you would like more information on how the points raised could impact you, please contact Lois Langton.