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The New Frontier: Custody Fights over Embryos

101122-stem-cells-hmed-1a-thumb-300x199-94250.jpgYou fall in love, you move in together and instead of having children you decide to create embryos together.

It's not the typical storybook progression, is it?

So what happens when a live-in couple who share embryos split up? The answer can be complicated especially if you have the kind of money that Sofia Vergara - the highest-paid TV actress who also has hefty endorsements and a product line - and Florida businessman Nick Loeb have.

The once "it couple," who apparently signed legal papers promising not to pursue the embryos if they split up, are having a disagreement.

Vergara vs Loeb

Sofia has definitely moved on. These days, she is sporting a 7-carat diamond ring from her fiancé and beau of the past year.

However, Loeb is focused on the embryos. In fact, he would like to bring the embryos to term with another woman.

He feels strongly about this issue and raised an interesting issue in a recent New York Times op-ed piece:

"A woman is entitled to bring a pregnancy to term even if the man objects. Shouldn't a man who is willing to take on all parental responsibilities be similarly entitled to bring his embryos to term even if the woman objects?"

Loeb, who is half Jewish, baptized Episcopalian and was raised with a Catholic nanny, believes that life begins at conception. Therefore, he reasons that embryos are human beings and cannot be destroyed or left frozen forever.

To bring the embryos to life, Loeb would need to either use a surrogate or have the embryos implanted in a significant other. It's unclear what his plans are.

Are Embryos Covered by a Contractual Agreement?

What is clear is that Sofia believes that the law is on her side. In her mind, they signed a contract and Loeb needs to abide by it.

So what happens to unused frozen embryos? According to Parenting Magazine, some people donate them to medical research.

Other people allow the embryos to be implanted in other women. Still other couples perform a ceremony for the thawing and disposal of the unused embryos.

There was a Houston couple who after filing for divorce, fought for five years about their frozen embryos.

The women wanted the embryos implanted in herself so that she could have a baby. Her ex-husband wanted the embryos destroyed. In 2008, the ex-husband won the case.

Storing frozen embryos indefinitely carry a fee and emotional cost. As long as the embryos remain frozen, parents need to pay for the storage costs. That bill can be a painful reminder of unused embryos.

Some people, unable to make a decision for several years, finally decide to have another child simply because they can't fathom thawing and disposing of what some people consider to be life at its earliest form.

As opportunities for stem cell research expand, however, parents of unused embryos will have more opportunities to donate their cells to science.

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