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From the time Shannon Morell of Sterling, Michigan, underwent in vitro fertilization for the birth of twins in 2006, she and her husband, Paul Morell, regarded the six leftover frozen embryos as sacred. Then, on Feb. 17, 2009, Shannon and Paul Morell received astonishing news from the fertility clinic: all six of their frozen embryos had been accidentally transferred into the womb of another woman — and she was pregnant. For 36 weeks, Carolyn Savage of Sylvana, Ohio, carried the couple’s child, delivering a healthy 5-pound, 3-ounce boy. On Sept. 24, 2009, in an act of generosity and faith, Savage, then handed the baby back to his biological parents only 30 minutes after his birth, sealing a connection between the two families.

Unfortunately, not every case has a happy ending like the one experienced by Shannon and Paul Morell. Issues on custody of frozen embryos and parentage of the resulting child may sometimes arise even before the child is born. Beginning in 1985, Mary Sue and Junior Davis went through six attempts at in vitro fertilization (IVF). After fertilization was completed, a transfer was performed on December 10, 1988; the rest of the preembryos were cryogenically preserved. Unfortunately, a pregnancy did not result from the December 1988 transfer, and before another transfer could be attempted, Junior Davis filed for divorce. The controversy arose when Mary Sue requested custody of the couple’s seven frozen embryos during the divorce proceedings.

Legal and Ethical Considerations on the Use of Assisted Reproductive Technology in the United States and Italy