Knoxville, Tenn. – On June 11, a small group of pro-life demonstrators made a last-ditch attempt to prevent a man from destroying seven frozen embryos. Their picket soon became a memorial as they learned that the bizarre case involving a Knoxville couple had finally drawn to a bitter end. The embryos had already been destroyed.
The story received world-wide attention and raised many questions concerning the morality and practicality of new reproductive technologies.
The case began four years ago. Junior Lewis Davis and his wife Mary Sue Davis, who could not conceive naturally, attempted to have a child through in-vitro fertilization. The couple conceived and froze 7 embryos at the clinic in Knoxville.
However, they soon divorced and a bitter custody battle began over who had control of the embryos. Mrs. Davis wanted to give the embryos to an infertile couple, while Mr. Davis wished to have them destroyed. He claimed that since he had fertilized the embryos he did not wish to assume any legal parenting responsibility.
After court battles at various stages, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a decision of the Tennessee Supreme Court by ruling that Mr. Davis’ right not to become a father outweighed his wife’s right to the embryos.
Mrs. Davis’ lawyers argued that their client had a right to protect her own off-spring, and that the frozen embryos were human beings with independent legal rights.
Pro-life groups, who predicted problems would arise from reproductive experimentation, said that once the embryos were created, they were human beings. World renown geneticist Jerome Lejeune testified at the hearings as an expert witness. He tried to convince the court that the embryos were human beings but could not sway the court’s decision that Mr. Davis would have control over the destiny of the embryos.
The controversy finally ended when Mr. Davis, who has since remarried, had the embryos destroyed.
To pro-lifers, the case out-lined the pitfalls which naturally accompany such experimental human reproductive technology.
Mrs. Davis’ lawyer said that the court’s decision created a father’s right to “kill by shelf-life his own child once that child has been procreated and exists as a living human being.”