Federal appeals court denies benefits for child conceived after father's death

[JURIST] The US Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit [official website] ruled [opinion, PDF] Monday that an Iowa girl born two years after her father's death was not entitled to his Social Security [official website] benefits. After the death of her husband, Patti Beeler used in vitro fertilization (IVF) [Medline backgrounder] to conceive the child, known as BEB, with her late husband's preserved semen. She then applied to the Social Security Administration (SSA) for survivor's benefits but was denied when the SSA said BEB did not qualify under sections 402(d)(1) and 416(e) of the Social Security Act [texts]. The first section only distributes benefits to children who were "dependent upon such individual ... at the time of such death," while the second defines child. A lower court ruled for Beeler, but Monday's decision reversed, finding the SSA made a reasonable interpretation of the act:

The death of Bruce Beeler at a relatively young age before he and Patti Beeler could conceive children is profoundly sad. But whether the granting of child's insurance benefits to B.E.B., a posthumously conceived child, would further the purposes of the Social Security Act is debatable, given the Act's "basic aim of primarily helping those children who lost support after the unanticipated death of a parent." It is unlikely that Members of Congress contemplated this precise question when enacting the relevant provisions of the Act in the 1930s and 1960s. At a minimum, however, the Act permits the longstanding position of the SSA, if the Act does not require it. As the law now stands, it resolves the question of eligibility for child's insurance benefits by reference to state intestacy law, and Iowa law did not provide B.E.B. with intestacy rights at the time of the agency's final decision in this litigation.
The Beelers' home state of Iowa's intestacy law was written before IVF was prevalent and did not allow for IVF children to have rights of inheritance. Since this case, Iowa has enacted HF 245 [text, PDF], which guarantees estate rights to IVF children. Both the Ninth and Third Circuits [official websites] have ruled that the SSA is misinterpreting the statute and have awarded benefits to IVF children, so the issue will likely culminate in the Supreme Court.

IVF is a type of fertility treatment for couples who have had difficulty conceiving children. Through IVF, a woman's eggs are removed and fertilized outside the body. Successfully fertilized embryos are then implanted into the woman for gestation. Although it is becoming a widely accepted practice, many nations have had difficulty fitting this approach to conception into their legal structures. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) [official website] in August filed suit [JURIST report] in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights [official website, in Spanish] to challenge Costa Rica's longstanding ban on IVF. The Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) [official website] in Strasbourg ruled in 2007 that a British woman could not have frozen embryos conceived with a former partner implanted without his consent [JURIST report]. Natallie Evans and Howard Johnston entered an IVF program in 2001 and Johnson agreed to the implantation of the embryos, but later withdrew his consent after the breakup of the couple.

 

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