Ex-husband testifies in first day of SF court battle over frozen embryos

Dr. Mimi Lee, 42, is arguing for the parental right to frozen embryos that she and her ex-husband cryogenically froze in 2010. (Courtesy photo)

Dr. Mimi Lee, 42, is arguing for the parental right to frozen embryos that she and her ex-husband cryogenically froze in 2010. (Courtesy photo)

A trial that will likely set a precedent on cases involving divorcees at odds on the fate of their frozen embryos began Monday with the ex-husband testifying he carefully read and signed forms stating the embryos would be discarded should their marriage terminate.

On the other side aisle, the ex-wife’s attorney claimed his client’s constitutional right to biological children overrides her former husband’s unwillingness to be the father.

Monday’s key testimony came from Stephen Findley, 45, a financial analyst who wed Mimi Lee, 46, a San Francisco anesthesiologist and pianist, in September 2010 — 10 days after she’d been diagnosed with breast cancer.

On the witness stand, Findley described himself as “a very detail-oriented person” in reviewing and signing forms required by UC San Francisco’s Center for Reproductive Health before the in vitro fertilization procedure.

A section of the forms, signed by the couple, indicated the five embryos in UCSF’s facility would be thawed and discarded in the event of divorce. Findley said his intent was that any decision to implant the embryos had to be made jointly.

Had Lee asked for the embryos if they divorced, Findley testified he wouldn’t have signed.

“I think I would have asked her first what her intentions were, which was to have children together,” Findley said. “If she said that [keeping the embryos after divorce] was her choice and no alternative, I would have said, ‘I cannot agree to that.’”

But in his opening statement, Maxwell Pritt, Lee’s attorney, said she signed the forms in the midst of a “whirlwind of life-changing moments” including love, battling cancer and dwindling fertility and that ruling in Findley’s favor would be “destructive of Dr. Lee’s procreative rights.”

“Her intent in using her embryos for children far outweighs Mr. Findley’s desire not to have a biological connection to a child,” Pritt said.

At the center of the debate was whether the UCSF consent forms represented a binding agreement between the couple.

Dean Masserman, an attorney representing UCSF, stressed the importance of abiding by the consent forms.

“If these consent forms cannot be relied upon, [UCSF’s] whole process comes to a standstill,” Masserman said. “[Doctors] have to be told what [the donors] want to be done with embryos [having] hundreds of thousands of embryos frozen.”

During opening statements, Findley’s attorney Joseph Crawford raised another twist in the case, saying the divorce was extremely difficult on his client financially and Lee “tried to blackmail him” into giving her property and tried to obtain $1 million to $2 million per embryo.

Lee did not take the witness stand Monday. The bench trial, originally scheduled through Thursday, may take longer, Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo said.

cryopreservationembryosSan Francisco Superior CourtUC San Franciscovitro fertilization

Just Posted

The fate of San Francisco nicotine giant Juul remains to be seen, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration is reviewing whether to allow certain flavored vape products on the market. <ins>(Jeenah Moon/New York Times)</ins>
How the vape king of teen nicotine addiction rose and fell in San Francisco

‘Hey, Juul, don’t let the door hit you on the way out’

Cabernet sauvignon grapes sat in a container after being crushed at Smith-Madrone Winery in St. Helena. (Courtesy Smith-Madrone Winery)
San Francisco’s ‘Champagne problems’ — Wine industry suffers supply chain woes

‘Everywhere you turn, things that were easy are no longer easy’

Glasses behind the bar at LUNA in the Mission District on Friday, Oct. 15, 2021. Glassware is just one of the many things restaurants have had trouble keeping in stock as supply chain problems ripple outward. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
SF restaurants face product shortages and skyrocketing costs

‘The supply chain crisis has impacted us in almost every way imaginable’

A Giants fans hangs his head in disbelief after the Dodgers won the NLDS in a controversial finish to a tight Game 5. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
Giants dream season ends at the hands of the Dodgers, 2-1

A masterful game comes down to the bottom of the ninth, and San Francisco came up short

<strong>Workers with Urban Alchemy and the Downtown Streets Team clean at Seventh and Market streets on Oct. 12. <ins>(Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)</ins> </strong>
<ins></ins>
Why is it so hard to keep San Francisco’s streets clean?

Some blame bureaucracy, others say it’s the residents’ fault

Most Read