Cancer survivor gains custody over embryos, ex-boyfriend to appeal

A Cook County judge this morning awarded custody of frozen embryos to a 42-year-old Chicago woman over the objections of her ex-boyfriend who said it violates his right to not procreate.

In 2009, Karla Dunston, a doctor who lives in the city, began dating Jacob Szafranski, a 32-year-old firefighter, paramedic and nurse from Elgin. A few months into their relationship Dunston was diagnosed with lymphoma and had to undergo chemotherapy that would ultimately destroy her fertility.

She testified that she longed to have a biological child and asked Szafranski to provide his sperm so embryos could be frozen prior to her treatment, and he did so, despite neither of them thinking the relationship had long-term prospects. A co-parent agreement giving Dunston control of the embryos was never signed.

The couple broke up in May 2010. Szafranski said he changed his mind about being a father after friends and a girlfriend reacted negatively, according to court documents.

Judge Sophia H. Hall said this morning in a written ruling that oral agreements between Szafranski and Dunston concerning use of the embryos stand and added that Dunston’s desire to have a child outweighs Szafranski’s desire to not procreate.

Dunston’s attorney Abram Moore applauded the ruling, saying that it is important to use this case to set a precedent in Illinois to help other female cancer survivors with this “heart-wrenching situation.”

Szafranski’s attorney Brian Schroeder said they plan to appeal the decision. The embryos will not be implanted in Dunston until the appeal is completed.

In 1985, 260 babies were born through assisted reproductive technology; in 2010, the number topped 61,000, according to the American Society for Reproductive Medicine.

Yet only a few state higher courts have addressed, with mixed results, what to do with frozen embryos once a couple has separated. Legal experts said they would be watching to see how Illinois handles the complex issue.

-Chicago Tribune reporting

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