Health & Human Services

Georgia Clears a Path for Legal Adoption of Embryos

A new law in Georgia makes it the first state to clear a legal path for adopting human embryos in much the same way as...
by | October 31, 2009

A new law in Georgia makes it the first state to clear a legal path for adopting human embryos in much the same way as parents adopt children. Conservatives hope the "Option of Adoption Act" puts momentum behind a multi-state effort aimed at giving embryos the rights of personhood, in hopes of eventually banning abortion.

The transfer of custody of an embryo from one set of parents to another is not new. When couples pursuing in-vitro fertilization decide they are finished with childbearing, an option they have is to provide unused embryos to another couple that wishes to experience a pregnancy. (Donating the embryos to stem-cell research is another option.) Generally, the transfer is handled as an exchange of property.

Under the new Georgia law, accepting parents can file for adoption papers and have the embryo exchange officially recognized by the state as an adoption. That gives them legal protection in case the donor parent has a change of heart when the child is brought to term. An interesting but as yet unanswered question is whether the IRS will recognize these adoptions, too--the federal government offers a tax credit worth as much as $12,000 to parents who adopt a child.

Georgia Right to Life, which promoted the legislation, sees the bill's passage as progress, even though language that expressly defined an embryo as a person was taken out of it. The law's sponsor, state Representative James Mills, says it makes a strong statement about the importance of life at its earliest stages. He believes it's especially important that Georgia no longer treat adopted embryos as property.

The issue of personhood is expected to come up in other states next year. Ballot initiatives with language defining a person as human life beginning at fertilization or the start of biological development are likely to be debated in California, Colorado, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri and Montana.

Tina Trenkner
Tina Trenkner  |  Deputy Editor, GOVERNING.com
ttrenkner@governing.com  |  @tinatrenkner

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