Court Master: Two-Year-Old Orphan Should Inherit 11 Frozen Siblings

By Barbara Hollingsworth | February 25, 2014 | 2:25 PM EST

Microscopic image of a human egg being fertilized invitro. (AP photo)

( – A master in chancery appointed by a Dallas probate court is recommending that a two-year-old orphan inherit the frozen embryos of 11 siblings conceived in a lab dish before their parents were murdered.

The court official is also recommending that the frozen embryos be kept alive by the fertility clinic until the boy turns 18, at which time he would acquire all rights to them.

John Robertson, professor of law at the University of Texas/Austin, reports in the Harvard Law Petrie-Flom Center blog that this case is breaking new legal ground, as “there is no Texas or United States cases involving inheritance of frozen embryos when both parties have died and left no instructions with the clinic or in a will.”

The child’s parents, 40-year-old Yenenesh Abayneh Desta and his wife, 31-year-old Lemma Yayehyirad, who owned a popular Ethiopian restaurant in North Dallas, were gunned down on the front steps of their home in August 2012. Abey Gima, who allegedly followed the couple home from the restaurant because he felt “disrespected” by them, was later arrested in Colorado.

Robertson notes that “almost all litigation in this area involves divorcing couples who want a different disposition than that to which they had agreed or have left no instructions at all…Without a contesting party who provided gametes, the main question under Texas law is whether the embryos were ‘property’ that would pass under the intestacy statute.

“The widespread reluctance to describe dispositional control of embryos as ‘property’ arises from the fear that if so designated they would have no special status and could be treated like any object or thing.  But ‘property interest’ also connotes dispositional control—who decides what is done with embryos within legal limits of what can be done with them,” he added.

“They wouldn’t be doing this if we had good and accurate laws to fall back on,” Jennifer Kimball Watson, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Culture of Life Foundation who specializes in eugenics in artificial reproductive technologies, told

By giving the frozen embryos to their two-year-old brother, Kimball Watson added, “the obvious attempt is not to gestate them, which leads one to believe that what the court is doing is awarding them as a form of property inheritance of the two-year-old.

“They’re just saying we don’t know how to deal with [the embryos], so we’ll just keep them frozen….It’s not fair to put that on a child.”

Kimball Watson added that invitro fertilization (IVF) clinics “have no regard for the lives they bring into being.  They just want to make money on someone’s infertility….We would not have these problems with fetal farms and embryonic stem cell research were it not for the practice of IVF.”

“This is very tragic,” agreed Dr. Marie Hilliard, director of bioethics and public policy at The National Catholic Bioethics Center in Philadelphia (NCBC). She quoted Dignitas Personae, a document released by the Vatican’s Confraternity for the Doctrine of the Faith in 2005, which says that “cryopreservation is incompatible with the respect owed to human embryos…the problem of thousands of abandoned embryos represent a situation of injustice which in fact cannot be resolved.”

“Dignitas Personae presents the dilemma of what happens when technological advances come before the ethical hazards are considered,” Hilliard told “When we treat human embryos, who should have all the rights of a human person, as property that can be inherited by a two-year-old, that puts us all at risk because human life has become a commodity.”