SAN FRANCISCO — A San Francisco couple’s divorce has taken an ugly turn following the breakout of a legal and ethical fight over the fate of frozen embryos they created five years ago.

The issue began shortly after Dr. Mimi Lee, 46, received a breast cancer diagnosis back in September 2010 that prompted her and her husband, executive Stephen Findley, to create five embryos and have them frozen in a lab at UCSF, thereby secure a possibility of children in their future.

However, after Findley filed for divorce two years ago, they became divided on what they wanted to do with the embryos. Dr. Lee, who was left infertile following her bout with cancer, wants to implant them into a surrogate, while Findley wanted them destroyed.

According to Findley’s attorney, both initially consented to have them disposed of in the event of a divorce back when the embryos were first created. Now, Dr. Lee has changed her mind and filed a lawsuit to control the fate of the embryos.

Dr. Mimi Lee and her counsel try to fight for her case to have the frozen embryos preserved.
Dr. Mimi Lee and her counsel try to fight for her case to have the frozen embryos preserved.

The first day of the trail was held on Monday at San Francisco County Superior Court, where the case is said to be heard without the presence of a jury. Findley testified on Monday, citing Dr. Lee’s consent of the documents’ “clear directives”. He has also accused Lee of trying make money off of the matter and of “blackmailing” him during the ordeal.

Dr. Lee is set to testify her case on Tuesday. Her legal representation is expected to argue against destroying the embryos because they limit her right to “realize the fundamental and constitutionally protected bond of a parent and a child.”

During his testimony, Dr. Mitchell Rosen, the director of UCSF’s reproductive health center, stated that the university always intends to uphold the contents of the agreement regarding the fate of frozen embryos that are signed by both parties.

Some experts speculate that the case could have the potential to change the procedures of fertility clinics around the state. Currently, a number of other states around the country have seen cases similar to the one in San Francisco. One can see a possible shift from couples freezing fertilized embryos to freezing unfertilized eggs, though the latter option holds a slightly greater success rate for results than the former.