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What Does The IRS Tax Decision Mean For Egg Donors And The Industry

Our very own Dean Masserman weighs in with his initial thoughts:

I have read and reviewed the opinion in the case Nichelle G. Perez v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue, Docket No. 9103-12 from the United States Tax Court. In that case Ms. Nunez was a typical Egg Donor who entered into a contract with the Donor Source and Intended Recipients. She received compensation of $10,000.00 on two occasions in 2009 for two donations with two different recipient couples. At the end of the tax year the Donor Source issued a 1099 for $20,000.00. The contracts between Perez and the Recipients were typical, in that they referred to the payments made to the donor as reimbursement for pain and suffering, and specifically noted that the payment was not for the sale of eggs or body parts. The contracts also stated that “the agreement does not instruct any of the parties on the issue of taxation of any payment made or received…”

I make the following conclusions and recommendations:

The seminal question before the court was reduced to this: “Whether a taxpayer who suffers physical pain or injury while performing a contract for personal services may exclude the amounts paid under that contract as ‘damages’ received ***on account of personal injuries or physical sickness even though the taxpayer knew that such injury or sickness might occur and consented to it in advance?” That answer is no, the monies may not be excluded and are taxable.

1) The exemption referred to is contained within Internal Revenue Code (IRC) 104(a)(2) which excludes from gross income “the amount of any damages received (whether by suit or agreement and whether in lump sums or as periodic payments) on account of personal physical injuries or physical sickness.”

2) The term “damages” is defined as an amount received through prosecution of a legal suit or action, or through settlement entered in lieu of prosecution. Perez argued that the definition of “damages” was invalid because it requires litigation, or the threat thereof, as a prerequisite to the income exclusion. The court disagreed and noted that the exemption was created to account for monies received by a taxpayer to make them whole from tortious injury.

3) The court flatly rejected the notion that the monies were for reimbursement of pain and suffering. The court agreed that the donor did endure pain and suffering from an invasive procedure, but concluded it did not arise from a “tort or tort-like” claim, nor from any type of settlement. It was a known factor contemplated by the parties prior to the contract being entered into.

4) The court concluded that Perez had a legally recognized interest against bodily invasions but gave up that interest and consented to such intimate invasion for payment, i.e. a by-product of performing the service contract. The court analogized it to professional athletes who accept the risk of injury in exchange for a negotiated salary. Football players, hockey players all get injured but their salary cannot be partially exempted when they do get injured.

Interestingly, there was one case (Green) where a person offered blood plasma in exchange for compensation (payment was “by the pint”) and another case (Garber) where the taxpayer’s compensation was based upon the concentration of antibodies in the plasma. The findings in those cases was that the taxpayers were engaged in the sale of property, rather than the performance of services. The court contrasted those two cases against Ms. Perez’s case by noting that unlike the “taxpayers in Green and Garber, who were paid by the quantity and quality of plasma produced, Perez’s compensation depended on neither the quantity or quality of the eggs retrieved, but solely how far into the egg-retrieval process she went.” Based thereon, the tax court concluded that Perez was clearly compensated for services rendered and not for the sale of property. Was the court suggesting that if the contracts were re-written and clearly stated that the compensation is for the sale of eggs that Perez would have won? If language was added that compensation is dependent upon the quality and quantity of eggs retrieved would it make a difference? Would any egg donor agree to such terms? Isn’t revenue from the sale of property and goods taxable anyway? Does the sale of single-cell genomes fall within the exception regarding the sale of body parts? These are all interesting questions to which we have no answers. We are not tax experts, and therefore can neither answer these questions nor opine on a solution to the tax issue. Logic seems that if the eggs were sold as property, it would still create a taxable event for the donor, but there would be no 1099 as an independent contractor. It would simply open another Pandora’s box of tax implications, licensing, costs of goods, etc.

The bottom line is we see no way around the ruling and believe that the fees paid to donors is taxable. That will likely lead to higher donor fees. It also begs the question of who is responsible to issue the 1099. Normally a 1099 is issued by a taxpayer to reduce its taxable income, and they report to the IRS with a 1099 where the money went and the IRS follows the trail. However, if the recipient couple as the payor were so obligated, their anonymity would be compromised. Based upon the court ruling in Perez, and the fact that the Donor Source Agency issued the 1099, I would assert that the agency has the duty. That would make sense because the agency “controls” the account in that they direct when payments are due, and we do not want to compromise anonymity.

As you can see they utterly reject the entire pain and suffering aspect to it. I just don’t see a way around it.

ICSI: No Better Than Conventional IVF

In a study conducted by the CDC, ICSI is deemed no more effective than IVF.

Sperm Fertilizing Egg
First introduced in 1992, intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI) doubled between 1996 and 2012 to assist couples struggling with male infertility. Now a new study from researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) concludes that the use of ICSI is no more effective than conventional in vitro fertilization.ICSI, or intracytoplasmic sperm injection, involves the direct injection of sperm into eggs obtained from in vitro fertilization (IVF). The assisted reproductive therapy is most commonly used with couples who are dealing with male infertility factors such as low sperm counts, poor motility or movement of the sperm, poor sperm quality, sperm that lack the ability to penetrate an egg, and azoospermia.

ICSI is significantly more expensive than traditional IVF. Previous research has also noted a higher risk of transmitted genetic abnormalities with ICSI compared to conventional IVF.

Comment the researchers led by Dr. Sheree L. Boulet of the Division of Reproductive Health at the CDC:

“Pregnancies resulting from the use of ICSI have been associated with 1.5-4 times increased incidences of chromosomal abnormalities, imprinting disorders, autism, intellectual disabilities and birth defects, compared with pregnancies resulting from conventional IVF.”

For the present study, the researchers sought to assess national trends and reproductive outcomes for fresh (non-frozen) IVF cycles following the use of ICSI compared to conventional IVF without ICSI.

Using a retrospective cohort study with data on fresh IVF and ICSI cycles reported to the US National Assisted Reproductive Technology Surveillance System between 1996 and 2012, the researchers identified 1,395,634 fresh IVF cycles, 908,767 (65.1 percent) of which used ICSI and 486,867 (34.9 percent) of which used conventional IVF.

The researchers also identified male factor infertility as a factor in 499,135 (35.8 percent) of the fresh IVF cycles. Other factors such as unexplained infertility, two or more prior ART cycles with prior live birth, low oocyte yield, use of preimplantation genetic testing, and female patients older than age 38 accounted for the remaining 896,499 (64.2 percent) fresh IVF cycles.

According to the study, the use of ICSI doubled between 1996 and 2012 from 36.4 percent to 76.2 percent. ICSI use increased from 76.3 percent in 1996 to 93.3 percent in 2012 for cycles with male factor infertility. ICSI use also increased in cycles without male factor infertility from 15.4 percent in 1996 to 66.9 percent in 2012.

However, among the cycles with male factor infertility, the researchers found outcomes with ICSI similar to the outcomes with conventional IVF. The researchers also identified “small but significant” reductions in implantation, pregnancy, live birth, and multiple live birth in cycles without male factor infertility using ICSI compared to conventional IVF.

In other words, despite an increase in use, intracytoplasmic sperm injection does not appear to improve reproductive outcomes compared with conventional in vitro fertilization.

Comment the researchers on the findings:

“The results of this analysis demonstrate a steady increase in the proportion of ART cycles involving ICSI performed in the US from 1996 through 2012. Compared with conventional IVF, use of ICSI was not associated with improved reproductive outcomes irrespective of male factor infertility diagnosis.”

The researchers do note some limitations of the present study. For example, the US National Assisted Reproductive Technology Surveillance System does not gather information on fertilization rates:

“Although we were able to indirectly assess fertilization failure using the number of cycles canceled following oocyte retrieval, this measure assumes that cycles not proceeding to embryo transfer represent those in which all oocytes failed to fertilize, which may not necessarily be true.”

The study also examined only fresh IVF cycles, although the researchers do not expect the results to differ significantly with frozen embryos.

Two other recent studies found that, although assisted reproductive technology (ART) procedures are associated with low maternal complication risks, ART does increase the risk for serious birth complications including stillbirth, preterm birth, low birth weight, and neonatal death.


Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection: ICSI: http://americanpregnancy.org/infertility/intracytoplasmic-sperm-injection/
Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection No Better Than Conventional IVF, Study Finds: http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/288225.php
Trends in Use of and Reproductive Outcomes Associated With Intracytoplasmic Sperm Injection: http://jama.jamanetwork.com/article.aspx?articleid=2091303

Image Credits

Sperm Fertilizing Egg: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:06fertilizado.jpg

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Read more at http://parentingpatch.com/intracytoplasmic-sperm-injection-no-better-conventional-ivf/#fRAQxKQ0DCwD18tK.99

Baby Gammy Granted Australian Citizenship

Baby Gammy, the baby at the center of the Thai surrogacy controversy is granted Australian citizenship.

Baby gammy

Baby Gammy, an infant who was left behind in Thailand by his Australian parents in a major surrogacy scandal, has been granted Australian citizenship.

The ABC reported on Tuesday that Gammy’s Thai mother, Pattaramon Chanbua, applied for citizenship for her baby, who has Down’s syndrome and has suffered a series of health problems that have required medical treatment.

Baby Gammy’s story gained international attention after it was revealed in August that the Australian parents who negotiated the surrogacy arrangement, Wendy and David Farnell, left him behind in Thailand while taking their other child Pipah, who was healthy, back to Australia.

In a TV interview the Australian parents of Gammy had previously said they wanted a refund from the Thai surrogacy agency when they were told one of their twins would be born with Down’s syndrome, and would have requested the pregnancy be aborted.

“It was late into the pregnancy that we learned the boy had Down’s,” David Farnell said. “They sent us the reports but they didn’t do the checks early enough. If it would have been safe for that embryo to be terminated, we probably would have terminated it, because he has a handicap and this is a sad thing. And it would be difficult – not impossible, but difficult.”

Farnell has been previously convicted of 22 child sex offences and spent time in prison. The Department for Child Protection has initiated an investigation into the matter.

Surrogate Mother Claims Couple Left Her in Financial Ruin

A surrogate mother from California says she is in financial ruin after her surrogacy with a British agency owned by a millionaire gay couple.

That’s when she discovered the British Surrogacy Centre (BSC), an agency owned by millionaire couple Barrie and Tony Drewitt-Barlow that had an office in California. Barrie and Tony, known as the first gay couple named on a surrogate child’s birth certificate, were the stars of British reality show The Parent Makers, which documented the couple’s experiences running the agency and raising their five surrogate children.

“The British Surrogacy Centre leapt out at me. Barrie and Tony sounded like remarkable men. I got in touch with their local office in L.A. I thought I was in for another magical journey. Instead it turned into the worst experience of my life,” Hoffner said.

Hoffner was hired, and signed an agreement to carry twins for a Brazilian couple. She was to be compensated $33,000 in total for the surrogacy, and gave up all parental rights. The agreement also stated that the agency would cover additional expenses such as medical bills and lost wages. Hoffner said there were problems from the very beginning.

“At my first appointment they told me I was carrying twins. I was very sick so the doctor ordered me to take total bed rest. I couldn’t work. The bills started piling up,” Hoffner claimed. The woman also said that she attempted to hire a translator through the BSC so she could correspond with the couple, but said the agency was “grossly incompetent.”

“I kept submitting bills for expenses and the payments would be late. The BSC told me there were issues in Brazil and that because surrogacy was illegal in Brazil they’d had their bank account flagged up. I emailed Barrie Drewitt-Barlow at the end of last year, begging him to help to get my bills paid. In return he sent me emails full of abuse.”

Drewitt-Barlow’s response to Hoffner’s request for assistance was, according to reports, less than understanding. “I advised your Ips (Intended Parents) NOT to pay you anything at all because you are a crazy b**ch who deserves to be locked up!” Drewitt-Barlow allegedly wrote in one email.

“U should be ashamed of urself you utterly selfish cow! You are just trailer trash woman and I want nothing more to do with u! I will dig up all ur dirt including all the lawyers u p****d off on this case! You will not get one more penny, let’s face it ur contract will not stand up in any court in Brazil! Lol,” another read. Drewitt-Barlow claimed that his emails were “doctored.”

Hoffner delivered the babies on August 30th of last year, but said she never even had the chance to see them. “I was doubled over in pain and rushed to the nearest hospital. I was heavily sedated. When I woke up the babies were gone and nobody would tell me if they were alive or dead as I had signed over my rights,” she said.

Hoffner said she was forced to court because she couldn’t pay some of the bills that had piled up from the surrogacy, and is now over $70,000 in debt. She points the finger of blame at the BSC.

“I blame BSC for all the problems. The Brazilians didn’t realise that the costs could escalate as they did.”

A representative for the Drewitt-Barlows’ agency responded to the controversy, shifting the blame to Hoffner.

“The majority of the money Megan claims is owed is medical fees incurred because she insisted on using a hospital not covered by her medical insurance,” BSC Vice President Reece Statham said. “She was advised of this but refused to change.”

Sources: The Daily Mail, The Inquisitr / Photo Credit: dailymail.co.uk

Legal Scholar Calls for ‘Fetal Rescue Programs’

In this article, a Law professor proposes the transfer of a fetus to an artificial womb in the event of an abortion as a way to save the fetus and put an end to the abortion debate.

While the premise may sound like something right out of a Margaret Atwood novel, it is not some feminist dystopian nightmare; nor, for that matter, is the possibility of artificial wombs or gestation solely the creation of science fiction. The scenario is, as Professor Stephen Giles argues in the recent article “Does the Right to Elective Abortion Include the Right to Ensure the Death of the Fetus?”, a possible legal path forward for anti-abortion advocates to either render Roe v. Wade irrelevant or overturn it altogether.

Giles, who teaches at Quinnipac University School of Law, makes the argument for protecting fetal rights at the point of conception once technology has advanced to the point of being able to gestate humans in entirely “artificial” environments. According to Giles, this brave new world of ectogenesis will benefit women by eradicating the need for legal protections for abortions. That’s because, as Giles explains, modern technology currently limits reproductive choices. There is no way to end a pregnancy—other than via live birth and adoption—in a way that does not terminate the fetus, he writes.

And this is a problem for Giles. In addition to insisting on (incorrectly) using “fetus” to “refer to the human organism at every stage of development from conception to birth,” Giles also creates two “categories” of abortions as a way to automatically assign a morality to the procedure: apparently good “fetus-sparing abortions,” in which the physician attempts to terminate a pregnancy by somehow removing the zygote, embryo, or fetus “intact and alive,” and bad “fetus-killing abortions,” where the objective “is to kill the fetus either before or during its removal from the woman’s body.”

At this point, without the technology for a zygote, embryo, or fetus to survive outside the womb, “In practice, elective abortion inevitably results in fetal death,” writes Giles. “For that very reason, the woman has no choice in the matter: Should she elect to terminate her pregnancy, the fetus will die even if she wants it to survive.”

Presumably, the patients Giles has in mind here are women who allegedly terminated pregnancies because they were not “ready” to parent, either for financial or emotional reasons. In other words, they were uncomfortable with the thought of terminating their pregnancies, but saw no other choice. In turn, he notes there is a stigma associated with carrying a pregnancy to term and then relinquishing parental rights in adoption. While it sounds like he’s trying to be sympathetic to these patients by painting them as grieving would-be mothers, his so-called “solution” for the “problem” of these women choosing abortion is, of course, to take that choice away.

That solution, as he sees it, is what he calls a “fetal rescue” program, in which the state bears the burden and expenses of gestating the terminated pregnancy, including the burden and expense related to caring for any live birth that results. Here’s Giles’ proposal:

It [fetal rescue program] puts the woman in what we might call the gestate-or-relinquish dilemma: carry the fetus to term or relinquish it to the state prior to viability for attempted rescue via AW [artificial womb]. The gestate-or-relinquish dilemma can best be characterized as a pre-viability, pre-natal version of the raise-or-relinquish dilemma. Like its post-natal analogue, it frustrates the woman’s interest in ensuring the death of the fetus. If she opts not to carry the fetus to term, she must relinquish it to the state, and if AW succeeds, her biological child will be raised by others.

According to Giles, these state-mandated, state-funded, and state-run fetal rescue programs would resolve any social stigma surrounding carrying a pregnancy to term and relinquishing parental rights via adoption because a patient would have the ability to effectively, privately “terminate” their pregnancy in a way that doesn’t “kill” it.

We must consider, however, that pregnant people’s bodies are already battlegrounds under the law, and that the very idea of the state stepping in and “rescuing” fetuses as early as conception completely erases women’s reproductive privacy rights—the rights that Roe v. Wade are supposed to enshrine.

Also, what, if any, legal rights would spouses, partners, parents, or other family members have to the pregnancy developing in the artificial womb? If lawmakers refuse to fund social service programs now, what makes us think they’ll do so in the name of “fetal rescue?” And should the state refuse to bear the full cost of these programs, who do we think will shoulder that burden the most? Poor people. People of color. People with disabilities. The very same people with limited reproductive freedom and autonomy right now.

More importantly, Giles’ argument presumes without question that once a person is pregnant they somehow “owe” the state a live birth. This is a presumption with immediately dangerous consequences playing out in places like Tennessee, Alabama, Wisconsin, and Indiana, where prosecutors and judges are incarcerating women for being a perceived threat to their developing pregnancy.

It would be easy to write off Giles’ fetal rescue program as the stuff of theocratic sci-fi fantasy. To do so, however, would dangerously underestimate the political willpower of the anti-abortion movement, which has made significant gains peddling abortion restrictions—such as informed consent requirements and parental involvement laws—dressed up as “solutions” to the problem of patients “struggling” with the decision to end a pregnancy.

To be clear, advances in reproductive technology like the artificial womb have tremendous promise in improving the lives of many. But when scholars like Giles argue there is a “problem” with women having full autonomy over their reproductive selves, and that the legal “solution” is for the state to leverage that technology to remove that autonomy in the name of “expanding” choices for women, it’s imperative for reproductive rights advocates to take that argument seriously and head-on, lest we risk losing those rights altogether.

Heterosexual Couple Challenge UK Ban On Civil Partnerships

The Civil Partnership Act 2004 in the UK sanctioned the lawful union same sex couples; equality for same sex couples was finally achieved with the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act 2013. The latter act has not replaced civil partnerships, but rather allows same sex couples the choice of civil partnerships or marriage.

However, a heterosexual couple, Rebecca Steinfeld and Charles Keidan, have launched a legal challenge against the ban on members of the opposite sex entering into civil partnerships.

The 2004 Civil Partnership Act stipulates that only same-sex couples are eligible for civil partnerships.

Dr Rebecca Steinfeld told reporters that “it just seems so logical and reasonable that any social institution in a democratic society should be open to anybody…A civil partnership is a much more accurate reflection of how we see each other and our relationship, in a way that being a husband and a wife just would not mesh.”

Mr Keidan observed: “As a long-term cohabiting couple we want the protections under law that are currently denied to us because we’re not choosing marriage.”

The High Court in London is expected to rule on the ban in the New Year.

Irish Court Rules Pregnant Woman’s Life Support Machine Should Be Switched Off

Three High Court judges in Dublin have ruled that doctors may switch off a life support machine that has been keeping a brain dead pregnant woman alive.

In what the justices described as a “tragic and unfortunate case”, doctors treating the 26 year old woman refused to switch off the life support machine fearing that they maybe fall foul of Ireland’s strict abortion laws, which afford the 18 week old fetus the same constitutional rights as the mother as that of a citizen.

Lawyers representing the unborn child had told the court that it must be satisfied that there was no real possibility of the fetus surviving before allowing the machine to be turned off.

The court agreed with the medical evidence that it was unlikely that the fetus would be viable. The judges observered that “The condition of the mother is failing at such a rate and to such a degree that it will not be possible for the pregnancy to progress much further or to a point where any form of live birth will be possible”

It is understood that the woman’s father filed a suit against the Irish health authorities, following the unnamed woman suffering a catastrophic head injury after she sustained a fall on 29 November.

Travel Information for U.S. Citizens Using Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART)

A Bulletin from the U.S. Department of State – Bureau of Consular Affairs which highlights the specific concerns of a single female intended parent using anonymous egg donors traveling abroad while pregnant as well as U.S. citizen intended parent(s) employing ART in foreign countries. As you will see below, there are complicated legal issues surrounding the utilization ART. An attorney practicing reproductive law can properly counsel intended parents on the best course of action.

Transmission of U.S. citizenship at birth to a child born abroad is governed by Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) Sections 301 and/or 309. The Department of State interprets the INA to require a U.S. citizen parent to have a biological connection to a child in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to the child at birth. In other words, in order to transmit U.S. citizenship to a child conceived through Assisted Reproductive Technology (ART), a U.S. citizen father must be the genetic parent or a U.S. citizen mother must be either the genetic or the gestational and legal mother of the child at the time and place of the child’s birth. (A gestational mother is the woman who carries and gives birth to the child.)

The determination of citizenship of children born abroad to a U.S. citizen parent is the responsibility of the U.S. Department of State and is governed by U.S. law. Therefore, even if local law recognizes a surrogacy agreement and finds that U.S. parents are the legal parents of a child conceived through ART, if the U.S. citizen parents do not have a biological connection to the child, the child will not be a U.S. citizen at birth.

The Department determines the citizenship of each child who applies for documentation as a U.S. citizen individually, on a case by case basis, after carefully considering the specific facts surrounding the child’s birth and his or her parents’ situation. We cannot “pre-adjudicate” a citizenship determination. In many cases involving ART, the best evidence available to parents to show their biological connection to a child born to a foreign surrogate is DNA testing. These tests cannot be done until after the child is born.

Children who are born abroad to foreign surrogates and who are not biologically related to a U.S. citizen parent can have trouble entering the United States. If the child is not biologically related to a U.S. citizen parent, the child will not acquire U.S. citizenship automatically at birth. However, in some countries, the child will not acquire the citizenship of the country where he or she is born because the surrogate mother is not considered the parent of the child. In such a case, it may be impossible for that child to get a passport from the United States or the location of birth, and/or from third countries depending upon the circumstances of the case. It may be helpful for U.S. parents considering a foreign surrogacy arrangement to consult with an immigration attorney first.

The Department is aware of cases where foreign fertility clinics have substituted alternate donor sperm and eggs for the U.S. parents’ genetic material, either purposefully when the planned genetic material turned out not to be viable or through accidental laboratory errors. The intended parents learned of these undisclosed switches only when the parents obtained DNA tests after the child’s birth, as part of the process of documenting the child’s citizenship for the purposes of obtaining a U.S. passport. Such situations can have the unfortunate consequence of leaving a child stateless or otherwise unable to leave the country of birth.

A U.S. citizen parent who has a biological child overseas, including via a foreign surrogate mother, may apply for a Consular Report of Birth Abroad of an American Citizen (CRBA) and a U.S. passport for the child at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the country where the child was born.

A CRBA certifies that a child born abroad is a U.S. citizen. A CRBA does not determine the identity of the child’s legal parents. Therefore, in general, the name/s listed on the CRBA is/are the U.S. citizen parent/s with a biological connection to the child. A second parent may be listed on the CRBA if the second parent demonstrates a legal parental relationship to the child under local law; the CRBA does not, however, serve as a record of that individual’s status.

The U.S. passport also documents the citizenship status of the bearer and, during the period of its validity, is proof of U.S. citizenship. If the Embassy or Consulate determines that the child is a U.S. citizen, he or she will need a U.S. passport to enter the United States. As part of the application process, the parents must provide evidence to the local U.S. Embassy or Consulate of the child’s identity, birth, and citizenship. In an ART case, the parents may be requested to provide medical and documentary evidence of the child’s conception and birth and such other evidence as would demonstrate the biological connection between parent and child, along with evidence of the parents’ identity, citizenship, requisite physical presence in the United States, and legal status as the child’s parent under local law. Parents may also arrange for DNA tests of the child, using approved labs and procedures as described in our Information Sheet for Parents on U.S. Citizenship and DNA Testing. If the child is biologically related to a US citizen father, but not to the father’s spouse, the case would be treated as a birth out of wedlock to a U.S. citizen father, pursuant to INA 309(a), and the father would have to meet the additional requirements of that section. If the child is biologically related to a U.S. citizen mother, but not her spouse, the case would be treated as a birth out of wedlock to a U.S. citizen mother, and would have to meet the requirements of INA 309(c). If the child is the biological child of both parents, and the biological parents are married to one another, INA 301 requirements would apply, including a requirement that at least one of the US citizen parents had resided in the United States prior to the child’s birth.

The regulations governing issuance of a U.S. passport to a minor under 16 are found in 22 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) Section 51.28. Essentially, the legal parents of the child must both consent to the passport application unless one of the exceptions enumerated under 22 CFR 51.28 exists. If, under local law, a surrogate mother is the legal mother of a child born through ART, then the surrogate mother would need to consent to passport issuance for the minor child or one of the exceptions to the two-parent consent rule in 22 CFR 51.28 would have to be met. The burden of demonstrating the citizenship and identities of the minor’s legal parents rests with the passport applicant under 22 CFR 51.23 and 51.40.

Stunning Zinc Fireworks When Egg Meets Sperm

Experts from the Argonne National Lab have captured images of when egg meets sperm and the chemical reaction that happens with zinc atoms.


Sparks literally fly when a sperm and an egg hit it off. The fertilized mammalian egg releases from its surface billions of zinc atoms in “zinc sparks,” one wave after another, found a Northwestern University-led interdisciplinary research team that includes experts from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Photon Source at Argonne National Laboratory.

Using cutting-edge technology they developed, including new high-energy X-ray imaging techniques, the team is the first to capture images of these molecular fireworks and pinpoint the origin of the zinc sparks: tiny zinc-rich packages just below the egg’s surface.

Zinc flux plays a central role in regulating the biochemical processes that ensure a healthy egg-to-embryo transition, and this new unprecedented quantitative information should be useful in improving in vitro fertilization methods.

“The amount of zinc released by an egg could be a great marker for identifying a high-quality fertilized egg, something we can’t do now,” said Teresa K. Woodruff, an expert in ovarian biology and one of two corresponding authors of the study. “If we can identify the best eggs, fewer embryos would need to be transferred during fertility treatments. Our findings will help move us toward this goal.”

Woodruff is the Thomas J. Watkins Professor of Obstetrics and Gynecology and director of the Women’s Health Research Institute at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.

The study, to be published Dec. 15 by the journal Nature Chemistry, provides the first quantitative physical measurements of zinc localization in single cells in a mammal, using mouse eggs. The research team developed a suite of four physical methods to determine how much zinc there is in an egg and where it is located at the time of fertilization and in the two hours just after. Sensitive imaging methods allowed the researchers to see and count individual zinc atoms in egg cells and visualize zinc spark waves in three dimensions.

After inventing a novel vital fluorescent sensor for live-cell zinc tracking, scientists discovered close to 8,000 compartments in the egg, each containing approximately one million zinc atoms. These packages release their zinc cargo simultaneously in a concerted process, akin to neurotransmitter release in the brain or insulin release in the pancreas.

These findings were further confirmed with chemical methods that trap cellular zinc stores and enable zinc mapping on the nanometer scale in a custom-designed electron microscope developed for this project with funding from the W.M. Keck Foundation. Additional experiments at the Advanced Photon Source synchrotron at Argonne enabled the scientists to precisely map the location of zinc atoms in two and three dimensions.

“On cue, at the time of fertilization, we see the egg release thousands of packages, each dumping a million zinc atoms, and then it’s quiet,” said Thomas V. O’Halloran, the other corresponding author. “Then there is another burst of zinc release. Each egg has four or five of these periodic sparks. It is beautiful to see, orchestrated much like a symphony. We knew zinc was released by the egg in huge amounts, but we had no idea how the egg did this.”

O’Halloran is the Charles E. and Emma H. Morrison Professor of Chemistry in the Weinberg College of Arts and Sciences and director of Northwestern’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute.

The study establishes how eggs compartmentalize and distribute zinc to control the developmental processes that allow the egg to become a healthy embryo. Zinc is part of a master switch that controls the decision to grow and change into a completely new genetic organism.

The studies reported in Nature Chemistry are the culmination of six years of work and build on prior discoveries in the Woodruff and O’Halloran labs, and work they conducted at the APS. In previous studies in mouse eggs by this research team, the egg’s tremendous zinc requirement for reaching maturity was discovered. In addition, the researchers determined that an egg loses 10 billion of its 60 billion zinc atoms upon fertilization in a series of four or five waves called “zinc sparks.” Release of zinc sparks from the egg is essential for embryo formation in the two hours following fertilization.

“The egg first has to stockpile zinc and then must release some of the zinc to successfully navigate maturation, fertilization and the start of embryogenesis,” O’Halloran said. “But exactly how much zinc is involved in this remarkable process and where is it in the cell? We needed data to better understand the molecular mechanisms at work as an egg becomes a new organism.”

One major hurdle O’Halloran and Woodruff faced was the lack of sensitive methods for measuring zinc in single cells. To address this problem, they formed a collaborative team with other researchers in Northwestern’s Chemistry of Life Processes Institute to develop the tools they needed.

Key members of the team were Vinayak P. Dravid, the Abraham Harris Professor of Materials Science and Engineering at the McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science, and Stefan Vogt, a physicist and group leader of microscopy at the Advanced Photon Source at Argonne. Dravid and Vogt are authors of the paper.

“We had to develop a slew of methods to be convinced we were seeing the right thing,” O’Halloran said. “Science is about testing and retesting ideas. All of our complementary results point to the same conclusion: the zinc originates in packages called vesicles near the cell’s surface.”

The researchers currently are working to see if they can correlate zinc sparks with egg quality, information that would be key to improving fertility treatments.

Not only are these new imaging techniques important for describing the zinc spark, they can be applied to other cells that likely use zinc in a similar way, but whose workings remain elusive due to the lack of sensitive and specific tools. This study lays the groundwork for understanding how zinc fluxes can regulate events in multiple biological systems beyond the egg, including neurotransmission from zinc-enriched neurons in the brain and insulin-release in the pancreas.

Proposed upgrades to the APS will dramatically enhance future studies in this area. At the moment, X-ray tools cannot effectively probe trace metal content in biological samples at the resolution and sensitivity required to map small clusters of metals as they interact with transporters on cell surfaces and vesicles.

“Upgrading the APS will dramatically increase the spatial resolution, sensitivity, and speed at which we can visualize trace elemental content in three dimensions in a statistically significant number of cells,” Vogt pointed out. “This will not only make it possible to visualize in 3-D across the whole egg the zinc at the membrane and the individual vesicles in the cell that emit sparks of zinc to make the egg fertilizable, but allow us to do so with dozens of samples at all relevant time points.”

The National Institute of General Medical Sciences, the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and the W.M. Keck Foundation supported the research, which made use in part of APS, a DOE Office of Science User Facility.

The title of the paper is “Quantitative mapping of zinc fluxes in the mammalian egg reveals the origin of fertilization-induced zinc sparks.”

In addition to O’Halloran, Woodruff, Dravid and Vogt, other authors of the paper are lead author Emily L. Que, Reiner Bleher, Francesca E. Duncan, Betty Y. Kong, Seth A. Garwin and Amanda R. Bayer, of Northwestern; and Sophie C. Gleber and Si Chen, of Argonne.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations.  Argonne is supported by the Office of Science of the U.S. Department of Energy. The Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States, and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, please visit science.energy.gov.

The Ohio Sperm-Bank Controversy: A New Case for Reparations?

A couple  is filing for damages totaling $50,000.00 because the Sperm Bank gave them sperm from a donor that they did not request.

A complaint recently filed with the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois, introduced us to the Cramblett family. Jennifer Cramblett, thirty-six, was reared in Scio, Ohio, “around stereoptypical attitudes about people other than those in her all-white community.” Cramblett recalls hearing members of her family speaking “openly and derisively about persons of color.” Cramblett herself, who now lives in Uniontown, Ohio, “did not know African Americans until her college days at the University of Akron.” Then, in 2012, the complaint says, she gave birth to one.

Last month, Cramblett filed a complaint for wrongful birth and breach of warranty against the Midwest Sperm Bank. The complaint reads, “On August 21, 2012, Jennifer gave birth to Payton, a beautiful, obviously mixed race, baby girl.” Cramblett is claiming fifty thousand dollars in damages because the company gave her sperm from a donor other than the one she’d requested. The complaint explains that, when Cramblett and her partner, Amanda Zinkon, decided to have a baby, “their desire was to find a donor with genetic traits similar to both of them.” Upon realizing that Cramblett might have been given the wrong sperm, a receptionist at the bank asked if she “had requested an African American donor.” Cramblett’s response: “No, why would I request that? My partner and I are Caucasian.”
Instead of taking aim at the clerical mistake, much of the complaint focusses on the injuries that Cramblett and Zinkon have incurred, and will continue to incur, because they have a “mixed race” child. They say they now have to travel to “a black neighborhood” to get the girl’s hair cut; they must now cope with the stress and worry from having a child who is stigmatized; they are concerned about enrolling their daughter in an “all-white school.” The complaint emphasizes that “all of Jennifer’s therapists and experts agree that for her psychological and parental well-being, she must relocate to a racially diverse community with good schools.” The central, and problematic, argument in Cramblett’s claim is based on the “fears, anxieties and uncertainty” that she and Zinkon must now navigate, as parents of a child with a skin color they did not ask for.

The case is entangled with a number of troubling ideas about science, identity, and class in this country. By equating race with “genetic traits,” Cramblett is claiming that race is a biological fact. By arguing that a child with darker skin and hair that is different from hers is an impediment to her chosen life style, Cramblett tacitly condones the hierarchy in this country that determines the relative worth of one life over another.

One paragraph of the complaint, in particular, illustrates Cramblett’s belief that her child will inevitably face harm.

One of Jennifer’s biggest fears is the life experiences Payton will undergo, not only in her all-white community, but in her all-white, and often unconsciously insensitive, family. Despite [Jennifer’s] family’s attempts to accept her homosexuality, they have not been capable of truly embracing Jennifer for who she is. . . . Though compelled to repress her individuality amongst family members, Payton’s differences are irrepressible, and Jennifer does not want Payton to feel stigmatized or unrecognized due simply to the circumstances of her birth.
The tragic irony here is that Cramblett is right to fear for her daughter’s future. It is likely that her daughter will not enjoy the privileges of first-class citizenship: she probably won’t be regarded and treated according to her worth, and she probably won’t be protected from the suspicions, fears, and judgments with which people will react to her skin color.

If the court awards Cramblett damages, it will essentially be paying her and her daughter reparations, something that our country has denied millions of others. Her claim hinges on the same rationale that led to a lineage of Americans who have been treated as second-class citizens—that it’s who her daughter is, and not the actions of others, that is the source of the disparate treatment she is likely to receive. Whatever stigma Payton may feel reflects our country’s history and society, not nature—a distinction that has always been true but has been elided, in part, by the perversion of science on which racism is based.

As the Cramblett case illuminates, un-learning race is not an abstract exercise; it is a difficult task that requires, among other things, a firm grasp of the distinction between skin color and race, between what is biological and what is social. Any fair adjudication of the Cramblett complaint—in a court of law or public opinion—demands that science be distinguished from fiction.


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Welcome to The Spin Doctor

Blogging about the legal, social and political issues of the day with an emphasis on reproductive rights and bioethics.

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