Parental Rights In New York To Graduate From The Dark Ages, Hopefully

The changes, if they go through, will significantly improve the state of New York law, and protect parental rights and donors’ rights.

New York parental rights

Many New York parents are currently in a very scary legal environment, and they may not even know it. Did you know that a hopeful single parent who turns to a known sperm donor to conceive in New York has no way to sever the donor’s parental rights? That’s right. And that means that a sperm donor can, at any time, seek parental rights to the child. Vice versa, the parent can seek child support from the sperm donor. That’s concerning! The situation is also true for egg and embryo donations.

New York attorney and adoption and assisted reproductive technology powerhouse, Denise Seidelman, spoke to me about the current problematic legal environment, as well as her ongoing efforts to fix the situation, and to protect parents and children. Seidelman and her law partner, Nina Rumbold, are among those in New York zealously advocating for the passage of the Child-Parent Security Act (CPSA).

Even The Governor Wants It!

The CPSA was introduced in 2013 by Assemblymember Amy Paulin and State Senator Brad Hoylman. Hoylman is himself a parent of two children born through surrogacy. Hoylman and his husband were forced to go outside of New York to have their children through surrogacy because, in addition to the bleak donor situation, compensated surrogacy is illegal in New York.

The CPSA has undergone a number of revisions since its initial proposal, and is still undergoing a few finishing touches. But not until this year did anyone have as much hope that this legislation could pass. Key among factors giving New Yorkers newfound optimism is the vocal support of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Governor has publicly supported the bill, explaining that “New York’s antiquated laws frankly are discriminatory against all couples struggling with fertility, same sex or otherwise.” Even more exciting, the Governor initially included the CPSA in his executive budget plan. However, it was removed in the last few weeks — possibly out of an interest in letting the legislature pass the bill with the latest updates.

What’s So Special About This Bill?

It protects children, for one! No kid should be stuck in the middle of a legal battle questioning who his or her legal parent is, merely because New York’s laws are decades out of date. Specific protections for families and those who help them include:

  • Clarifying and protecting parental rights when a sperm donor, egg donor, or embryo donor assists with conception. About time! Seidelman explained that while the surrogacy aspects of the bill are getting most of the attention, she is especially excited about the positive impact of the donor-related provisions. The bill provides that those who turn to a donor can be assured that they are the legal parents of their child, and that a donor can’t claim parental rights to the child. And, on the other side, that donors can rest easy that their good deed of helping another family no longer opens them to the risk of later being sued for child support for the child. This protection could encourage more couples to donate remaining embryos to others to form their families, rather than destroying them or donating them to research.
  • Legalizing compensated gestational surrogacy. At the moment, New York is among a small minority of U.S. states which dictate that a woman is not permitted to receive compensation if she chooses to act as a gestational surrogate for another. In fact, it’s criminal.

AboveTheLaw.com, by Ellen Trachman, April 10, 2019

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Making Babies in the Year 2045 – Genetic Data

Huge pools of Genetic data collected over the past generation allow you to pick many of your child’s genetic traits. Are you comfortable with that?

genetic defect

The year is 2045. The genomes of four billion humans have been sequenced, creating a huge pool of genetic information accessible to researchers. This process had been well underway in 2019, but accelerated rapidly once many countries realized that understanding human biology was the ultimate big data problem and a key to reducing health care costs and enhancing national competitiveness. Widely sharing deeply personal health information had alarmed privacy advocates. But supporters of sharing genetic data argued convincingly that the benefits to society outweighed the privacy concerns of individuals. The debate may have once seemed abstract. But now you are in a fertility clinic and the issues are fast becoming real.

The cascade of numbers overwhelms you as the doctor splashes the spreadsheet across the digital walls of her office.

“I hope you can see the wonder and possibility in these figures,” she says, trying to put you at ease.

As you sit in the spa-like clinic, it’s hard to imagine it was just last week when your assistant placed the miniature device on your arm that painlessly suctioned out a small amount of blood and started you on this journey. The spark of life that used to begin in bedrooms and the back seats of cars was now migrating out of the human body and into the lab.

“Take your time,” the doctor continues. “You need to first select the early- stage embryo optimal for you. The numbers across the top list the 300 options for you that we’ve prescreened from the initial 10,000. The column down the left lists all the disorders and traits influenced by genetics that we have some ability to predict. The numbers populating the chart are our best predictions for how the genetic component of each trait would be realized if we selected based on that trait alone. We’re looking for high composite scores emphasizing the qualities most important to you.”

You scan the lists on the walls wondering if a human being can really be reduced to numbers. “Can you really predict all of these traits?” you ask.

“These are all probabilities, not certainties,” the doctor says. “Not all traits are equally genetic. And genetics is a trade-off, so we can’t choose to optimize every trait. Thirty years ago we could mostly just identify disorders determined by a single genetic mutation, but in 2018 we started using what we call ‘polygenic scoring’ to make better predictions about diseases and traits influenced by hundreds or thousands of genes. 

“Our biology is still about as complex as it’s been for millions of years but the technology we’re using to understand it is getting exponentially more sophisticated,” she continues. “There may be magic in humans, but we aren’t made of magic. Our DNA is a type of source code we’re learning how to read and write.”

The idea of humans as hackable data sets may be increasingly common but still unsettles you. The numbers on the wall seem to confirm the doctor’s words. “And this 60 means that embryo would be good at math?” you ask, pointing to one of the options on the list.

NYTimes.com, by Jamie Metzl, April 10, 2019

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AI COULD SCAN IVF EMBRYOS TO HELP MAKE BABIES MORE QUICKLY

Embryo AI

IF A WOMAN (or non-female-identifying person with a uterus and visions of starting a family) is struggling to conceive and decides to improve their reproductive odds at an IVF clinic, they’ll likely interact with a doctor, a nurse, and a receptionist, not an AI specialist. They will probably never meet the army of trained embryologists working behind closed lab doors to collect eggs, fertilize them, and develop the embryos bound for implantation.

One of embryologists’ more time-consuming jobs is grading embryos—looking at their morphological features under a microscope and assigning a quality score. Round, even numbers of cells are good. Fractured and fragmented cells, bad. They’ll use that information to decide which embryos to implant first.

It’s more gut than science and not particularly accurate. Newer methods, like pulling off a cell to extract its DNA and test for abnormalities, called preimplantation genetic screening, provide more information. But that tacks on additional costs to an already expensive IVF cycle and requires freezing the embryos until the test results come back. Manual embryo grading may be a crude tool, but it’s noninvasive and easy for most fertility clinics to carry out. Now, scientists say, an algorithm has learned to do all that time-intensive embryo ogling even better than a human.

In new research published today in NPJ Digital Medicine, scientists at Cornell University trained an off-the-shelf Google deep learning algorithm to identify IVF embryos as either good, fair, or poor, based on the likelihood each would successfully implant. This type of AI—the same neural network that identifies faces, animals, and objects in pictures uploaded to Google’s online services—has proven adept in medical settings. It has learned to diagnose diabetic blindness and identify the genetic mutations fueling cancerous tumor growth. IVF clinics could be where it’s headed next.

“All evaluation of the embryo as it’s done today is subjective,” says Nikica Zaninovic, director of the embryology lab at Weill Cornell Medicine, where the research was conducted. In 2011, the lab installed a time-lapse imaging system inside its incubators, so its technicians could watch (and record) the embryos developing in real time. This gave them something many fertility clinics in the US do not have—videos of more than 10,000 fully anonymized embryos that could each be freeze-framed and fed into a neural network. About two years ago, Zaninovic began Googling to find an AI expert to collaborate with. He found one just across campus in Olivier Elemento, director of Weill Cornell’s Englander Institute for Precision Medicine.

wired.com by Megan Molteni, April 4, 2019

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What’s covered under New York’s new IVF law?

The New York Law will cover fertility treatment, including IVF, for up to 2.4 million

frozen eggs

With more young women and men delaying parenthood, the demand for fertility treatments such as egg freezing and in-vitro fertilization (IVF) has grown across the country.

Legislation and science have lagged behind the trend, and the cost of the treatments can be prohibitively expensive.

A new law, enacted in the 2020 state budget, mandates that certain large-group insurance plans cover IVF, and requires all private insurance companies to cover medically necessary egg freezing.

It is projected to benefit to up to 2.4 million New Yorkers, according to figures from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s administration, but there are kinks to iron out before it guarantees coverage to the other half of insured New Yorkers, including gay men, Medicaid-recipients, and the self-employed.

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa, the first woman to hold that position, pushed for IVF legislation in the spending plan, citing it as a top priority for the two-year-old Council for Women and Girls.

DeRosa, 36, said that she understands the anxiety of women in her age group who are pressured to decide between advancing their careers and starting a family.

There is nothing more personal or life altering than the ability to conceive and making the choice about when to conceive,” DeRosa said. “As someone who is currently facing these life-altering decisions, I know firsthand the toll they take — emotionally and financially.”

TimesUnion.com by Rachel Silberstein, April 1, 2019

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Recent wins for LGBTQ families

March arrived like the proverbial lion with a wave of good news for LGBTQ families.

LGBTQ Families

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy (D) signed a bill Feb. 19 expanding the state’s paid family leave law in a number of ways, including by expanding the definition of “family” to include chosen families and expanding the definition of “parent” to include foster parents and those who become parents via gestational surrogacy.

“New Jersey is now the first state in the nation to offer paid family leave that is inclusive of all families,” according to the Center for American Progress. 

A bill also passed the New York Assembly Judiciary Committee Feb. 27 that would more effectively protect families created through assisted reproductive technologies. The Child-Parent Security Act would legalize gestational surrogacy in the state and simplify the procedure for securing the legal rights of non-biological parents. It has yet to pass the full Assembly and Senate, but Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has expressed his support.

And in Virginia, the General Assembly on Feb. 22 passed an update to its surrogacy laws that will now give same-sex couples and single parents the same rights as different-sex couples. The legislation, known as Jacob’s Law, is named after the son of two dads who had to fight for their rights to him after he was born with the help of a surrogate. A Virginia court had refused to recognize their Wisconsin surrogate contract, precipitating a long legal battle.

On the federal level, Judge John F. Walter of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California on Feb. 21 recognized the birthright citizenship of Ethan Dvash-Banks, the son of U.S.-citizen Andrew Dvash-Banks and his Israeli husband Elad Dvash-Banks. Two-year-old Ethan was previously denied recognition of his citizenship—even though his twin brother was granted it.

That means that at least one other family, that of U.S. citizen Allison Blixt and her spouse Stefania Zaccari, an Italian citizen, must continue to fight for their children’s right to be U.S. citizens. Like the Dvash-Banks’, they married abroad while the Defense of Marriage Act was still in effect, and then had two sons, Lucas and Massi. The U.S. State Department refused to recognize their marriage and said that Massi was Allison’s son because she had given birth to him, but Lucas, who was carried by Stefania, was not. It thus has refused to recognize Lucas’ citizenship. The Dvash-Banks victory is thus a step forward, but not the end of the story.

Washington Blade by Dana Rudolph, March 18, 2019

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Revolutionary test could make IVF more successful by looking at the DNA a fertilised egg sheds in the lab

A revolutionary DNA test could make IVF more successful, research suggests. 

Problems with a developing baby’s chromosomes – strands of DNA found in every cell – are thought to be the main cause of miscarriages. 

To maximise a woman’s chance of conceiving via IVF, embryos are therefore screened before they are implanted into her womb to check for any chromosomal issues. 

But this involves taking cells from the embryos, which can damage them and increase the risk of a miscarriage.

The research was carried out by Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Boston, and led by Dr Catherine Racowsky, professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive biology. 

IVF involves taking a woman’s eggs, which then get mixed with her partner’s, or a donor’s, sperm in a lab. After 16-to-20 hours, they are checked to see if the egg has been fertilised.

The fertilised eggs – or embryos – grow in the lab for six days before the best one or two are transferred into the womb. 

But this can do more harm than good and therefore only tends to be carried out when older women – who are more at risk of chromosomal abnormalities – are undergoing IVF. 

To test whether a safer approach is possible, the researchers analysed 52 embryos from IVF clinics that were no longer needed and had already undergone a biopsy.

These embryos were kept in a petri dish for 24 hours.

The scientists then tested 0.01ml of the surrounding fluid in the dish, as well as the embryos themselves to determine how many chromosomes they contained. 

Results – presented at the Fertility 2019 conference in Birmingham – suggested analysing this fluid produced fewer false positives than traditional methods.

A false positive occurs when a test indicates a problem when the embryo is in fact healthy.

‘This shows DNA in spent culture medium can be reliably amplified and sequenced,’ Dr Catherine Racowsky said at the conference.   

And the new method does not harm the embryo.

Virginia Bolton, consultant embryologist at St Guy’s Hospital – who was not involved in the research – told New Scientist: ‘Trying to refine our mechanisms for choosing the embryo that’s most likely to lead to pregnancy is something that’s been eluding us for ever.

‘This [approach] doesn’t damage the embryo in any way.’ 

Dr Bolton believes this technique is better than others being developed that test for the chemicals an embryo secretes.

She worries these chemicals may become diluted, skewing the results, whereas ‘the DNA is either there or it isn’t’, she said.  

February 13, 2019, thedailymail.co.uk, by Alexandra Thompson

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Twins Were Born to a Gay Couple. Only One Child Was Recognized as a U.S. Citizen, Until Now.

Aiden and Ethan Dvash-Banks are twin brothers who were born minutes apart.

But only one of them was considered to be a United States citizen by the State Department. A federal judge ruled this week that was a mistake.

The twins are the sons of two married gay men, an American citizen and an Israeli citizen. Aiden was conceived using sperm from his American father and Ethan was conceived using sperm from his Israeli father, court records show. A surrogate mother gave birth to the boys in Canada in 2016.

The family sued the State Department for denying Ethan citizenship, drawing attention to a department policy that says that a child born abroad must be biologically related to an American parent to become a citizen. Gay rights activists argued that the policy harms same-sex couples, who often use assisted reproductive technology to have children.

“Two kids who have almost identical life experiences and parenting,” said Aaron C. Morris, a lawyer for the family and the executive director of Immigration Equality, a legal advocacy group that worked on the case. “To treat them differently is absurd.”

In a ruling on Thursday, Judge John F. Walter of Federal District Court for the Central District of California said that Ethan should be recognized as a citizen since birth. The judge ruled that federal law does not require a child born to married parents to prove a biological relationship with both parents.

The State Department said in a statement on Friday that it was reviewing the ruling, but did not respond to questions about what it would mean for the policy going forward.

The twins, now 2 years old, were born to Andrew Dvash-Banks, an American citizen, and Elad Dvash-Banks, an Israeli citizen. The couple met in Israel and married in Canada in 2010 before having their sons with the help of assisted reproductive technology, according to their lawsuit.

After the twins were born, their parents went to the United States Consulate in Toronto to certify the children’s American citizenship and get United States passports. But they were told that the twins had to take a DNA test to prove a genetic connection to Andrew, the lawsuit said.

Ethan was denied citizenship because Andrew was not his biological father, according to a copy of a letter from the State Department included in the lawsuit.

by Sarah Mervosh, New York Times, February 22,2019

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The Right Way to Legalize Surrogacy in New York State


New York State is on the brink of replacing an outdated and prohibitive law that criminalizes the practice of compensated surrogacy, one of only two states that does so.

Legislation to reverse the law has been introduced in both houses of the state Legislature, and Governor Cuomo has demonstrated support for it by including it in his Executive Budget.

As a law professor who focuses on gender equity, I’ve taken great interest in issues related to surrogacy in the United States and abroad. I’ve closely reviewed laws in multiple states as well as internationally and I support New York’s legalization of surrogacy.

When a woman chooses to support a couple or individual by serving as a gestational surrogate (where she is not genetically connected to the child because she did not contribute her egg), I believe she must have the autonomy to do so – provided she is protected by the law to ensure that any power imbalance between her, on the one hand, and the intended parents, surrogacy agencies and doctors, on the other hand, is mitigated.

The proposal the New York Legislature is considering and that Governor Cuomo is advancing, the Child-Parent Security Act, does protect surrogates in many ways. While the bill clarifies the parentage of all children born through third-party reproduction, here I focus only on how it legalizes and regulates gestational surrogacy arrangements.

Protections provided by the bill include: giving the surrogate the sole right to make decisions regarding her own health or that of the fetus or embryo she is carrying; giving the surrogate the sole right to terminate the pregnancy; and ensuring that the surrogate is represented by her own legal counsel. These types of commonsense protections are critical to creating a successful and effective program. If the New York Legislature passed the Child-Parent Security Act, New York’s law would be more protective of women who choose to be surrogates than laws in many other states.

Reexamining current law is long past due as technological advances and changes in acceptance of various family structures have made surrogacy much more commonplace. When lawmakers first implemented a ban on surrogacy in New York in 1992, they did so for several reasons that are less relevant today.

For example, when the restrictive New York law was enacted, there were ethical concerns about what was then nascent medical treatment — in vitro fertilization (IVF). Today, IVF is commonly-accepted as treatment for infertility and is also used in the gestational surrogacy process.

Despite the ban, today New Yorkers do work with surrogates to build families. They are just required to employ surrogates living in other states. This results in legal challenges, risks, and costs for the intended parents, including confusion regarding what laws are applicable to the situation.

GothamGazzette.com, February 21, 2019 by Sital Kalantry

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Embryo Donation May Be The Answer For You

If you are asking what to do with your extra embryos, embryo donation is a viable, and ethical, option.

Individuals and couples who have turned to IVF to help them have their families are now confronting a confounding question: what do we do with extra embryos?  Embryo donation is becoming the method of choice for many of us, myself included.  Every year when the embryo storage bill arrives, the ethical dilemma comes again.

The Process

Each clinic will have a different protocol to follow for directed embryo donation.  Most require an Embryo Donation Agreement between the donor parent/s and the recipient individual or couple, as well as a clearance for transfer, which includes such details as spousal consent (if one donor parent is not genetically related to the embryo) and which clinic’s cryopreservation equipment will be used.  Once all the pieces are in place, the process goes pretty fast.

To be prepared, it is a good idea to collect all of this information in advance from your fertility clinic.  They will provide you with your own health related information and, if a HIPAA waiver is prepared, the clinic may coordinate directly with the recipient’s clinic to streamline the process.

Embryo Donation Agreements

The requirement of an Embryo Donation Agreement makes good sense for all parties.  Most physicians require that an agreement is reviewed by legal counsel and executed before discussing this as an option with their patients. This agreement spells out the details of the transfer.  These details include: confidentiality and sharing of health information, physical and psychological screening of the donor/s and the recipient/s, custody of the embryos, intention regarding parentage of a child born through the embryo donation, the duration of the agreement timing and legal disclaimers as to the uncertainty of the law around embryo donation.

While the last item may cause alarm for some, it is generally understood that Embryo Donation Agreements are created to define the intention of the parties so that if, at some point in the future, there is a disagreement about the disposition of the embryos, there will be a document that anchors the intention of the parties to the original transfer date.

My Story

My husband and I were recently alerted to the closure of the fertility clinic that helped us have our son through egg donation and surrogacy.  As many gay men who turn to surrogacy know, with a young egg donor, you are likely to have more than one viable embryo.  We kept them in storage until now, but when confronted with the choice of transferring them to another facility or “discarding” them, we asked ourselves if embryo donation would be the best option.

We needed more input.  Our choice, when we had our son, was to remain involved in the lives of our egg donor and our surrogate mother.  We were fortunate enough to find two amazing women who wanted this type of ongoing relationship as well.  We wanted to include our egg donor in this “embryo” conversation because of our relationship.  When we emailed about the idea of embryo donation, she thought it was wonderful.  The thought of “discarding” our remaining embryos just didn’t feel right for any of us.

We agreed that we would try to find either a couple or individual who had been trying to have a child but could not.  Luckily, through our network of friends, we found the perfect person who was looking for a sibling for her son.  The thought of helping someone else have, or grow, their family makes me understand how surrogate mothers must feel.  I am in no way comparing our donation to the journey that is surrogacy, but I do feel that spark of love and hope that a child can bring.  Embryo donation doesn’t have to be a mystery.  It can offer peace of mind to families who find themselves asking what to do with extra embryos.  And you might be surprised whose dream of a family you can help come true.

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A new study suggests an LGBTQ millenials ‘Baby Boom’ is in our future

LGBTQ millennials are leading the way when it comes to the growth in LGBTQ families according to a new survey from the Family Equality Council, an LGBTQ rights organization.

LGBTQ millennials

The survey found that 63% of LGBTQ millennials between the ages of 18-35 are looking at starting a family or adding to their current one. What’s more, results from the LGBTQ Family Building Survey show that 77 percent of LGBTQ millennials are either already parents or are considering having children. This is 44 percent higher than LGBTQ people over the age of 55. 

The data points to a shift in the LGBTQ community in the wake of the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision which secured marriage equality in the United States. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling fueled speculation that we’d see a dramatic shift in LGBTQ family growth as a result.

Additionally, the survey revealed that 48 percent of LGBTQ millennials are actively planning to grow their families in the future, narrowing the gap between them and the 55 percent of non-LGBTQ respondents. In a 2013 Pew Research Center poll, only 35 percent of LGBTQ adults were shown to be parents, compared to 74 percent of non-LGBTQ adults.

That means in the last five years, the gap between queer and non-queer people wanting families went from 39 percent to 7 percent. Likewise, transgender survey respondents were found to be equally likely to grow their own families as their non-transgender peers.

by Gwendolyn Smith, LG BTQNation.com, February 10, 2019

Click here to read the entire article.