Arizona Court: Preserved Embyros Are Not Persons

A days-old human embryo preserved outside the womb isn't a person under the Arizona law that allows lawsuits for wrongful deaths, the Arizona Court of Appeals (search) has ruled.

The ruling stemmed from a lawsuit filed by a Phoenix-area couple against the Mayo Clinic (search), accusing it of losing or destroying some of their fertilized eggs.

The couple had asked the Court of Appeals to expand the definition of "person" under the wrongful-death statute to include embryos with the potential to be viable, but the court declined, saying it's a matter for the Legislature to decide.

Raw Data: Unborn Victims of Violence Act (FindLaw)

A 20-year-old Arizona Supreme Court (search) ruling on the wrongful-death law found that a fetus had to be viable — able to survive outside the womb — to support a lawsuit, and the Court of Appeals said Thursday there is still considerable debate surrounding start-of-life issues despite medical advances since 1985.

Because the terminology surrounding such issues is highly charged, the Court of Appeals said it tried to be neutral by using the term "pre-embryo" to describe the days-old, lab-preserved fertilized eggs involved in the case. Calling such eggs "embryos" could imply the egg is a "person," the ruling by a three-judge panel said.

While the Court of Appeals said the couple cannot sue the Mayo Clinic under the wrongful-death law, it reversed a Maricopa County judge's pretrial ruling dismissing the couple's lawsuit and reinstated it on other grounds.

Daniel McAuliffe, an attorney for Mayo, said he didn't know whether the clinic would appeal the ruling to the state Supreme Court, but he said the appeals court was reasonable in its decision to leave the definition of "person" to legislators.

Attorney John Jacubczyk, president of Arizona Right to Life (search), said he hadn't reviewed the ruling in detail but he disagreed with the use of the "pre-embryo" term. Life begins at fertilization, he said.