Court Denies Benefits to Child Conceived With Dead Father’s Sperm

     (CN) – A child conceived from the sperm of her deceased father cannot claim survivor Social Security benefits, the 9th Circuit ruled. The court rested its decision largely on the mother’s inability to prove that the father had consented to the birth.

     A three-judge panel upheld the district court’s denial of benefits to Brandalynn Vernoff and her mother, Gabriela.
     Brandalynn was conceived after her father, Bruce Vernoff, died of accidental causes in July 1995. Shortly after his death, Gabriela directed a doctor to extract five vials of Bruce’s semen, which she used to undergo in vitro fertilization in 1998.
     About five months after giving birth to Brandalynn, Gabriela filed a claim for child survivor benefits on behalf of her daughter and herself, as the surviving child’s mother.
     The Social Security Administration denied their claim, and Gabriela appealed, claiming her posthumously conceived daughter had an equal-protection right to the benefits.
     But the San Francisco-based federal appeals court emphasized that a child must be dependent on the insured parent to be eligible for benefits. Gabriela could not establish her daughter’s dependence, the panel said, because she was unable to prove that Bruce had consented to the birth.
     “Both an intent to create and a willingness to support a child are relied upon regularly by California courts in determining whether an alleged parent should be considered a natural parent,” Judge Hall wrote.
     “Brandalynn is not the insured’s deemed legitimate child under California law, and therefore she is not deemed dependent on him.”
     The court also rejected Gabriela’s equal-protection claim, saying the laws do not exclude all posthumously conceived children, just those who can’t meet the requirements under state law.

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