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March 19 2012

Man Dies + Wife Conceives Through In Vitro = Social Security Benefits for Child?

posted by Allie


One of the things law school teaches its masses is the idea of learning to argue and understand both sides of an argument.  After my first few weeks of classes, I began using this “skill” in my personal life—arguing just for the sake of arguing.  It was quite a lovely habit, as I’m sure you can imagine.  So while I may look at most issues now in the “gray” realm, seeing both sides, there’s the rare occasion when I simply can’t get past my initial gut reaction.  My gut on this one is “Man Dies + Woman Conceives Through In Vitro = NO Social Security Benefits for Child.”

The United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in an interesting case today to determine whether a child born through in vitro fertilization after the death of the parent can qualify for child survivor benefits under the Social Security Act.

There are over 100 similar cases involving this issue before the Social Security Administration, but this particular case being heard before the Court today involves a husband who deposited sperm with a fertility clinic after learning that he would likely die from cancer.  After his death, his wife underwent in vitro fertilization and conceived twins.  The SSA denied the claim for survivor benefits based on the position that applicable state law would not allow a posthumously conceived child to inherit property unless named in a will.  The Court of Appeals reversed the SSA and determined that the children received after death fell with the Act’s definition of child for purposes of survivor benefits. 

Clearly the Court of Appeals is living in “gray land” where every issue has multiple facets and outcomes—which I’m ok with most of the time—but sorry, Court of Appeals, this time I am camp black and white.  These children were not even conceived when the husband died.  Technology has allowed this type of gap to exist, but the law doesn’t have to accommodate it.  In my eyes, the purpose of providing survivor benefits is for support and stability of children upon the unforeseen death of a parent.  Here, the woman obviously had the funds to go through with vitro fertilization—the idea that SSA should have to financially support the wife’s conscious decision to get pregnant after the death of her husband seems crazy to me. 

So what do you all think?  Should I join the Land of Gray on this one?  Are there two sides that I’m missing? What I’d also be interested in discussing is the opinion of individuals who believe that an embryo—pre-implantation—is a human life.  Would these individuals also support full financial support of these kids?

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About the Author: Allie

Allie is a third year law student. She graduated from a small liberal arts college in 2008, married that same summer, and started law school in the fall. Talk about transitions! When she’s not studying, she loves to be with her hubby, Dustin. She also enjoys spending time with her family and friends, reading, cooking, crocheting, gardening, and decorating her home. Her favorite shows are Friends, Fringe, 30 Rock, Modern Family, Project Runway, and Top Chef. She has no idea what area of law she wants to practice in but is most drawn to areas involving torts- she is fluent in Spanish and hopes to incorporate that into her legal career.

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