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Fight Over Control Of Frozen Embryos Returns To Court

June 20, 2018 - 7:44 am

PONTIAC (WWJ/AP) - An estranged couple will appear in Oakland County Circuit Court Wednesday in the fight over the fate of embryos that were frozen before they split up.

Gloria Karungi and Ronaldlee Ejalu have a daughter who has sickle cell disease. Karungi believes if she can bear another child with one of the embryos, bone marrow cells from that sibling could potentially cure the girl's blood illness.

But Ejalu must give his consent to implant an embryo, according to a contract with an in vitro fertilization clinic, and he's not interested. Karungi and Ejalu never married and are no longer together.

Oakland County Judge Lisa Langton last year said she didn't have the authority to wade into the embryo dispute; she was simply determining financial support and parenting time for the couple's daughter. But the Michigan appeals court sent the case back to Langton for more work.

Langton last week denied the appointment of attorney David Kalman as a guardian of the embryos while she determines whether she can intervene in a dispute over their control. Kalman believes this should be a custody case.

"Generally, contracts are enforceable unless they're illegal or against public policy. And so the argument here would be this in vitro fertilization contract is not controlled at this position of these unborn children, that they're persons under the law and to try to treat them as property is against public policy," he said.

Judge Langton will now decide whether she and the Family Division of Oakland County court has jurisdiction over contested property held by unmarried parties. 

Karungi "wants to cure her daughter and is seeking the embryos to that end. ... Without the embryos coming to term, that child has no ability to be cured," the woman's attorney, Dan Marsh, said in a court filing.

Ejalu's lawyer, Dan Weberman, said he'll argue again that a Family Division judge has no role in what's basically a contract quarrel. He also said it's misleading for Karungi to claim that cells from a sibling are the only cure for the 7-year-old girl.

"They want to paint a picture like she's on her death bed," Weberman told The Associated Press. "She's in school. She's a happy girl. She gets treatment once a month."

Ejalu no longer believes that using frozen embryos is a good idea. He wants the case dismissed. 

"He doesn't feel ethically that a life should be created for human tissue harvesting. That's somewhat mind-boggling," Weberman said.