(CN) – A Utah woman who got pregnant using her dead husband’s frozen semen cannot claim Social Security benefits for herself or her child, the Utah Supreme Court ruled.
Gayle and Michael Burns were married less than three years when Michael was diagnosed with cancer. Before he underwent chemotherapy, Michael had some of his semen cryogenically frozen at the University of Utah.
He signed an agreement that would transfer ownership of the semen to his wife after his death, which happened in 2001.
Two years later, Gayle gave birth to a child, I.M.B., who had been conceived through artificial insemination using Michael’s semen.
Gayle applied for Social Security benefits on behalf of herself and her child based on Michael’s earnings. The Social Security Administration denied the applications, ruling that I.M.B. was not Michael’s “child” under the Social Security Act.
After an administrative law judge reversed the ruling, the Third Judicial District Court of Utah also ruled that Michael was the father of I.M.B.
This fell apart when the Social Security Appeals Council ruled that the administrative law judge had erred in ruling that she was entitled to benefits.
Gayle took the case to the U.S. District Court for the District of Utah, which posed the state-law question to the Utah Supreme Court.
In a decision written by Justice Ronald Nehring, the court ruled that Michael did not consent to be a parent when he signed the Semen Storage Agreement.
“The agreement was between Mr. Burns and the university for the purpose of storing his semen,” Nehring wrote. “The agreement specifically outlined the risks and obligations of the conflicting parties. It also provided for the transfer of those obligations upon Mr. Burns’ death. It did not ask for Mr. Burns’ consent to be the parent of a posthumously conceived child.”
This ruling aligns with an in vitro fertilization decision the Supreme Court reached five months earlier in Astrue v. Capato.
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