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Davis v. Davis


    Citation. Davis v. Davis, 842 S.W.2d 588, 1992 Tenn. LEXIS 400 (Tenn. June 1, 1992)

    Brief Fact Summary. Mary Sue Davis (Defendant) sought control of the seven frozen embryos stored in a fertility clinic when her husband, Junior Davis (Plaintiff), filed for divorce.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law. When the person seeking control of preembryos intends only to donate them to another couple, the objecting person has the greater interest and should prevail.

    Facts. In attempting a desired pregnancy, Mary Sue (Defendant) and Junior (Plaintiff) Davis, by way of in vitro fertilization (IVF), produced a number of preembryos, seven of which had been cryogenically frozen for later transfer to Defendant’s uterus.  The divorce action by Plaintiff  prompted Defendant to seek control of the “frozen embryos” to attempt a postdivorce pregnance.  Plaintiff objected.  They agreed on all terms of dissolution except for disposition of the embryos.  Both parties later remarried, and then Defendant wanted to donate the embryos to a couple with no children.  Plaintiff objected adamantly.  The trial court determined that the embryos were “human beings” from the moment of fertilization and awarded “custody” to Defendant.  The court of appeals reversed and gave joint control to the parties to have an equal say regarding disposition of the embryos.  Defendant appealed.

    Issue. When the person seeking control of preembryos intends only to donate them to another couple, does the objecting person have the greater interest and should that person prevail?

    Held. (Daughtrey, J.)  Yes.  When the person seeking control of preembryos intends only to donate them to another couple, the objecting person has the greater interest and should prevail.  There is a constitutional right to privacy that includes the right of procreational autonomy, including the right to procreate and the right to avoid procreation.  Preembryos are neither persons nor property but occupy an interim category, entitling them to special respect because of their potential for human life.  In addition, the state’s interest in potential human life is insufficient to justify an infringement on the procreational autonomy of the persons providing the gametes [reproductive cells].  Defendant’s interest in donation is not as significant as Plaintiff’s interest in avoiding parenthood.  If Defendant were seeking to use the preembryos herself, this case would be closer.  Affirmed in favor of the Plaintiff.

    Discussion. The court pointed out that its rule did not create an automatic veto.  The court should first look to the preferences of the parents to resolve disputes involving the disposition of preembryos.  Where a dispute exists, any prior agreement regarding disposition should be enforced.  However, if an agreement does not exist, the interests of each party must be weighed.  In most cases, the person wanting to avoid procreation, i.e. parenthood, should prevail.


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