This March, the United States Supreme Court will hear oral arguments about its first case on oncofertility. The case involves the Capato couple, a husband and wife from Florida who dealt with Mr. Capato’s diagnosis of esophageal cancer. Prior to beginning cancer treatment, the Capato’s learned that Mr. Capato’s chemotherapy could destroy his fertility and, as such, choose to preserve his fertility by banking sperm. Despite the cancer treatment, Mr. Capato passed away from his disease. Mrs. Capato decided to continue their wishes as a couple and use Mr. Capato’s banked sperm to have their children through in vitro fertilization.
In 2003, 18 months after the death of her husband, Mrs. Capato gave birth to twins. As a widowed mother of twins, Mrs. Capato applied for Social Security survivors’ benefits. According to the Social Security Administration website, these benefits are intended to help the family of a worker who passes away and that 98 of every 100 children are eligible for benefits if a working parent dies.
However, Mrs. Capato’s application for her children to receive survivors’ benefits was denied. According to the Social Security Administration, the Capato twins are not actually Mr. Capato’s children since they were conceived after his death. This first decision was based, in part, on a Florida law that states that a child cannot receive inheritance from a parent who was dead at the time of conception. Mrs. Capato appealed this decision twice and was denied both times. Finally, the Third Circuit decided on the Capato twins’ behalf stating that the term “child” refers to the biological offspring of Mr. Capato, which they are.
The case that is going to the Supreme Court is called Astrue v. Capato as the Social Security Administration, is commissioned by Michael J. Astrue. Social Security Administration has a policy of denying survivor benefits when a child is conceived after a parent’s death and they are asking for guidance for the court on when to decide when these children should be beneficiaries. We look forward to hearing more about this case in the next few months and will keep our readers updated. More insights into the legal aspects of oncofertility are available from some of the researchers at the Oncofertility Consortium:
- Medical hope, legal pitfalls: Potential legal issues in the emerging field of oncofertility by Gregory Dolin, MD, JD; Dorothy E. Roberts, JD; Lina M. Rodriguez, Teresa K. Woodruff, PhD
- Domestic and International Surrogacy Laws: Implications for Cancer Survivors by Kiran Sreenivas and Lisa Campo-Engelstein, PhD