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Children are expensive. Childcare and tuition costs are increasing far faster than the rate of inflation. As a result, many couples are waiting longer to have a child, which, in turn, means that more couples are turning to fertility treatments, including artificial insemination, to conceive when they can afford a child.
Why should this matter to lawyers?
Sometimes family planning does not occur on the couples’ intended schedules. Sometimes one partner dies before the couple can start a family. But when the surviving partner decides to have children using the eggs or sperm of his/her late spouse, the legal result can turn into a nightmare hypothetical from your law school past.
One such question recently came up in the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals. This week, the Eighth Circuit held in Beeler v. Astrue that a child conceived through artificial insemination more than a year after her father's death is not entitled to Social Security benefits under the Social Security Act.
Shortly before Bruce and Patti Beeler's wedding, Bruce was diagnosed with leukemia and advised to undergo chemotherapy. As chemotherapy can cause sterility, the couple decided to bank semen at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics (UIHC) fertility center on November 6, 2000. In February 2001, Bruce signed hospital forms bequeathing the semen to Patti and indicating that the couple wished for Patti to be artificially inseminated. The forms included a paternity acknowledgment.
Bruce's cancer treatment was unsuccessful; he died in May 2001.
Patti Beeler lost her job in August 2001, and decided to wait until she secured another full-time job with benefits before undergoing artificial insemination. Bruce and Patti's daughter, B.E.B., was born in April 2003.
It is undisputed that B.E.B. is Bruce's biological daughter, but the Social Security Administration denied insurance coverage benefits for B.E.B. because she "is not the child of a wage earner within the meaning of the Social Security Act." The Commissioner further argued that B.E.B. does not qualify because she was not dependent upon Bruce at the time of Bruce's death.
The Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that SSA's determination that B.E.B. did not qualify for Social Security benefits was within the agency's discretion. As support for its decision, the court noted that B.E.B. also would not inherit under Iowa intestacy laws, finding that Iowa, like the SSA, requires that a child be in utero at the time of a parent's death in order to qualify as the deceased parent's child.
Do you think the Eighth Circuit reached the correct decision in Beeler v. Astrue? In an era of increased medical intervention in conception, will rulings like this adversely affect a surviving spouse's reproductive decisions? When will the law catch up with real life?