Physician in SF civil trial calls frozen embryos “priceless”

Dr. Mimi Lee/Courtesy photo

The ex-wife in a controversial civil trial over frozen embryos testified Thursday, maintaining her physician experience led her to believe forms she signed stating the embryos would be destroyed, in the event of a divorce, were “absolutely not” binding.

The trial, which involves a dispute between Mimi Lee and her ex-husband Stephen Findley, could set a precedent with court decisions regarding divorcees’ frozen embryos.

Lee, 46, wants to use the embryos, which are being kept at UC San Francisco Center for Reproductive Health, to have a child. Findley, 45, on the other hand, believes the agreement’s terms should be carried out.

Lee, who was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly before marrying Findley, explained that as an anesthesiologist she saw “Do Not Resuscitate” forms “get changed all the time.” She said the consent forms she signed with UCSF should be no different.

“I did not feel I was bound by it,” Lee said of the forms required before in vitro fertilization procedures. “I knew there were provisions that circumstances could change.”

At the start of the trial Monday, Findley testified he meticulously reviewed the forms and said they should be binding. Furthermore, his attorney Joseph Crawford claimed Lee tried to blackmail Findley by asking for $1 million to $2 million for each of the five embryos they cryopreserved before her cancer treatments.

Questioned by her attorney Maxwell Pritt, Lee on Thursday said the millions came up in the heat of an argument with Findley over the dissolution of their marriage. Lee said the embryos were not worth $1 million, $2 million — or any amount of money — from him.

“It was a highly charged, intense emotional moment in that argument and I wanted Steve to acknowledge that represented the babies I wanted to have,” Lee said, breaking into tears. “Those embryos, for all intents and purposes, are my last chance to have my own babies and they’re priceless to me.”

Lee added that a doctor advised the couple that given she was 41 at the time they were considering having children, cryopreservation of embryos would give them a higher chance of a viable, live birth than merely freezing her eggs.

In his brief time on the stand Thursday, Findley claimed Lee “never told me that she thought that [the agreement] was non-binding.”

UCSF’s attorney Dean Masserman grilled Lee on her understanding of the forms, but she denied ever considering them binding. Asked if she believed the form required both her and Findley to agree on a change in the embryos’ fate, Lee said: “I don’t think that the form addresses that.”

Testimony in the trial, to be decided by Superior Court Judge Anne-Christine Massullo, will resume today, with closing arguments scheduled to take place on Aug. 4.

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