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Friday, May 1, 2015

Kitchen utensils and pregnancy - who knew they went together?

As I write this article, I am less than a month away from having my second daughter, so when I was reading the news the other day, a blurb about an unusual pregnancy and court ruling really caught my eye.

Not everyone is fortunate enough to be in a committed relationship, get pregnant the “old fashioned way” and go about their lives without any baby momma/baby daddy drama.  Lots of single women have children, and most decide to go the fertility clinic and sperm donor route.  However, that takes a lot of money and time, which are two things not everyone can afford.  The path less chosen is apparently what seemed best to Virginia resident Joyce Bruce.

In 2010, Joyce and her then-friend Robert Boardwine agreed for him to provide her with “the necessary item” to become pregnant.  Joyce took said item and proceeded to use an actual turkey baster (not kidding, and I doubt anyone will come to her house for Thanksgiving dinner anymore) to inseminate herself.  This unconventional method was not without effort, as the two had to try multiple times before succeeding in 2010.  Joyce even went to a fertility doctor a couple of times in between and that failed as well.  As luck would have it, the turkey baster attempts finally worked.

Robert claims he thought he could see the baby whenever he wanted, and Joyce contended that he could visit, but not any more often than a friend, and he certainly wouldn’t be considered a parent.  Their friendship broke down, and Robert decided to let it play out in the courtroom.

Joyce’s argument was that Robert was nothing more than a sperm donor, who should have no rights to the child.  However, Robert was able to hang his hat on Virginia’s assisted conception statute, and successfully convinced the court that a plain old turkey baster is not “reproductive technology.”  He was then awarded joint legal custody and parenting time with the baby boy.  Joyce appealed to the Virginia Court of Appeals but lost there too.  It is unknown if she will appeal the matter further.

The lesson to be learned from this case:  make sure you check the law before taking unconventional methods of reproduction into your own hands.

No pizza for you!

Oh Indiana.  Home of the NCAA and host of the Final Four basketball tournament that my beloved Spartans are in, what have you done to yourself?  Having the effect of setting the state back several centuries, Indiana Governor Mike Pence recently signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.  The Governor and supporters of the law stated that the intent of the law is to protect people from having to act against their religious beliefs, and provide a legal defense if they were sued.  However, the way it was written sparked a lot of debate over whether or not the law allowed Indiana businesses to refuse service to certain individuals if their lifestyle does not comport with the business owners’ religious beliefs.  Those in opposition of the law believe that it creates a loophole for legal discrimination against gays and lesbians.

On April 2, 2015 (hopefully not a late April Fool’s Day joke), Indiana’s governor signed an amendment to the law, which is meant to patch together a “fix” that prohibits discrimination against the LGBT community by businesses and other providers.  Many people believe that the only fix is to nix the entire law.  Notably, it exempts churches and other nonprofit religious organizations from being included in the term “providers,” and Indiana’s anti-discrimination law still doesn’t include the LGBT community.  The push for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act came as a counter to the marriage equality movement.

In the short period of time since the original law was signed, an Indiana pizza business has already come out and said that if a gay couple wanted pizzas at their wedding, they would not provide the food.  Memories Pizza, located in Walkerton, Indiana, is owned by a family who holds strong Christian beliefs, including not supporting gay marriage.  When the owners gave their support of the recent law by saying that they would not cater a gay wedding, the backlash was immediate.  Protests, boycotting of the business and unfortunately threats, have been fired back against the pizza parlor. 

Other businesses, such as the popular website Angie’s List, have decided against expanding business in Indianapolis, and declared the amendment to be “insufficient.”  Several states and cities prohibited spending on travel to Indiana in light of the original law.  Large sales of stock of Indiana based companies is a reality, and tourism is likely to take a substantial hit.

Even with the amendment, it is unlikely that Indiana will receive glowing reviews from the LGBT community any time soon.  The damage was strong and swift, and while it may be forgiven over time, it will not be forgotten.  Besides, it should be criminal to refuse pizza to anyone.

It takes wait...three to tango?

It is said that it takes two to tango – but now that England’s House of Lords has voted in favor of new legislation – it will take three in some cases when it comes to procreation. And no, this is not anything of the kinky sort – it’s strictly scientific, so remove your minds from the gutter.

Many of you may have seen the recent news articles on the “three person babies” legislation from jolly old England. When I started reading, I was transported to high school science class as soon as the word “mitochondrial” screamed at me from the website. So, here’s a refresher course for you. 

Everyone has mitochondrial DNA, which can only be passed down from the mother genetically. It lives in most of our cells, with the job of magically transforming the food we eat into energy.

If the mitochondria are not healthy, this can lead to devastating and fatal diseases and conditions, which can be passed down from generation to generation if those with the flawed DNA procreate. So, the question posed to scientists was how to remove the bad mitochondria and replace it with healthy ones, without completely removing the woman with the issue from the equation.

This is the point where it becomes all twilight zone-y – scientists have actually found a way to do it. Most are familiar with IVF (in vitro fertilization), where a sperm and egg are fertilized in a laboratory and then the embryo is transferred into the woman’s uterus. This procedure is frequently used in cases where couples suffer from infertility. The three person baby technique builds on that process and unites the DNA from the original couple with the healthy mitochondria of another woman. This results in the child having three DNA donations, but the donation from the healthy woman only comprises 0.1% of the child’s overall DNA. It doesn’t impact the child’s looks or intelligence so for all intents and purposes, the child is going to be a product of its mom and dad, minus one teensy-weensy piece.

Members of Parliament voted in favor of a law allowing this scientific technique, and the House of Lords just approved it as well, making England the first country to step into this uncharted territory. As one would imagine, there are a slew of ethical and scientific debates about this topic. Will people use it to create “designer babies,” choosing everything from height, eye color and hair? Is it too close to playing God? It’s easy to see the “slippery slope” argument that many churches and others are discussing.

On the other hand, this technique allows parents who have lost children from these diseases and have no real chance for a healthy, biological child, an opportunity to essentially erase
specific birth defects from the family blood line, and achieve their dream of having a healthy son or daughter.

With this law passing in England, I’m betting that it will have a huge ripple effect in the United States sooner rather than later. After all, isn’t England our “Mother Country?”

Lying to the court is not a great idea

When I first started practicing law, I assumed that the attorney/client confidentiality privilege would keep my clients honest with me.  After all, it’s not like I could tell anyone what they said.  However, I still found that they would lie, both about big issues and mundane things that came up during the course of my representation of them.

When I started working for the courts, the lying became more prevalent.  Everyone wants an edge in their divorce or custody battle, and fabricating stories is one way they try to get that edge.  You would think that most people lie about their income, and while this does happen, I find it happens less often.  Taxes, paycheck stubs and bank statements have a way of keeping people honest.

My personal favorite are the individuals who deny that they ever had knowledge of the case being filed (thus explaining their utter lack of participation in it and the child’s life).  They blame everything on the other parent’s sinister desire to banish them into “deadbeat dad” or “deadbeat mom” status.  As I listen to the words pour out of their mouths, I have in front of me the original signed order, with the signature of the (allegedly) unaware parent glaring at me.  I explain the interesting document before me.  Most of the time, he or she continues to deny it and offer excuse after excuse (someone else signed it, it’s the court system’s fault, the ex’s fault, my fault – despite the fact that I just met them).

Here’s the thing – once you lie to me, and it’s pretty blatant – I have a hard time believing anything else that you say.  The sad part is, the other parts of your story may be true, but what value do they have to them now? 

The reality of what happened in the past may be embarrassing, hurtful and damaging to your case.  But I can guarantee that being truthful about it and owning up to whatever responsibility you had in that situation, will help you in the eyes of the court.  You are doing yourself no favors by lying to someone who can greatly impact the direction of your life.  And trust me, it’s not like the court wants to control you – we desperately wish people could resolve matters on their own.