Two sets of parents who sued each other for the right to inherit four frozen embryos left by their children before they died last year in a tragic car accident in Wuxi, Jiangsu province, have been given joint custody.
The ruling on Wednesday by the Wuxi Intermediate People's Court overturned a lower court's rejection of a claim to the embryos by the parents of the deceased son.
The couple, Shen Jie and Liu Xi, were unable to have children because of infertility and had previously donated Liu's embryos at a hospital in the provincial capital of Nanjing in the hopes of having children. Liu was scheduled for embryo implantation surgery five days after the fatal crash.
After their death on March 20, 2013, the Nanjing Drum Tower Hospital refused to transfer the frozen embryos to either of the parents.
In January, Shen's father filed a lawsuit in a local court against Liu's parents, and the Nanjing hospital, asking for the rights to the embryos. In court, both sets of parents argued they had the right to inherit the embryos. The local court ruled in May that embryos are not ordinary objects that can be transferred or inherited.
"We feel so relieved after the court supported our request," said Shen's father. "We haven't decided whether to take the embryos home or keep them at the hospital. We'll pay the hospital for freezing and keeping them."
According to the Wuxi court, since China has no law that specifically defines legal possession of embryos after the donor dies, the four parents should have the right to inherit them considering the ethical issues, parents' feelings and benefits to the embryos.
It said that ethically, the embryos contain not only the DNA of the deceased couple, but also the genes of the grandparents, and that the embryos can provide a sense of comfort to the grieving families.
Liu Kexi, deputy director of the legislation committee of the Jiangsu People's Congress, said the ruling conformed with morality and social convention, and will set a precedent for similar cases.
However, the Nanjing hospital said it will not transfer the embryos to the parents before it issues a report to the national and provincial health and family planning commissions.
It said the transfer of the embryos to the parents is tantamount to acknowledging the legality of surrogacy.