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Virginia judge rules embryos can be treated as 'chattels' based on centuries old slave law

The judge said parallels existed between slave cases and this case with human embryos.

Published: March 11, 2023 5:17pm

Updated: March 11, 2023 6:00pm

A judge in Fairfax County, Virginia ruled that frozen embryos can legally be considered "chattel," or property, based on an old slave law from the 1800s.

This ruling is from a divorce case between Honeyhline Heidemann and Jason Heidemann and their two frozen embryos. Honeyhline wants to implant the embryos but Jason doesn't. 

In the preliminary opinion authored by Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Richard Gardiner, he sided with Jason, citing that since the embryos can't be bought or sold they shouldn't be considered goods or chattel, therefore Honeyhline couldn't claim custody. 

Adam Kronfeld, the lawyer for Honeyhline, asked the judge to reconsider the decision.

Judge Gardiner referred to rulings that used to be used in custody disputes regarding slaves. He said parallels existed between slave cases and this case with human embryos and it caused him to reconsider whether the goods and chattel law should also apply to these human embryos. 

"As there is no prohibition on the sale of human embryos, they may be valued and sold, and thus may be considered 'goods or chattels,'" Gardiner stated, according to NBC News.

Susan Crockin, a lawyer and scholar at Georgetown University's Kennedy Institute of Ethics, called the reasoning for the ruling "repulsive and morally repugnant."

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