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Children conceived via in-vitro fertilization after their father's death aren't guaranteed Social Security survivors insurance benefits, the Supreme Court ruled Monday in a case that highlights the growing legal challenges posed by modern medicine.
The justices unanimously reaffirmed a requirement that the federal government use state inheritance laws when deciding who gets the federal benefits and who does not. Still, the court granted that current laws likely weren't crafted with today's fertility methods in mind.
The case in question centered on twins born 18 months after their father's death. The Washington Post explains the pair's parents, Robert and Karen Capato, began storing Robert's sperm shortly after he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer out of a fear that his treatment would leave him sterile.
At the time, the married couple signed a notarized statement that children "born to us, who were conceived by the use of our embryos" should be entitled to their property. But that provision was left out of Robert’s will at his death in 2002, which only took into account his children who had already been born. Robert died as a resident in Florida, which requires that children conceived posthumously be named in a will to qualify for inheritance.
The Associated Press explains that the Social Security Administration cited the Florida law in its decision to deny the twins benefits. A federal judge agreed, but that ruling was later overturned by the 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, a decision that itself was at odds with other appellate rulings in similar cases. Enter the Supreme Court.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg penned the decision, writing that while the Capato’s circumstances were "tragic," their situation wasn't enough to overturn the existing requirement on the books. Still, she noted that the "technology that made the twins’ conception and birth possible, it is safe to say, was not contemplated by Congress when the relevant provisions" of the laws dictating social security were written.