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Supreme Court Weighs Right to Death Benefits for IVF Kids
In the year 2012, will a 1939 law hold up against advances in reproductive technology? That is the question currently being weighed in the Supreme Court in Astrue V. Capato, a case that will decide whether a child who was conceived through in vitro fertilization (IVF) after the death of a biological parent — but who cannot inherit personal property from that biological parent under applicable state intestacy law — is eligible for child survivor benefits under the Social Security Act.
Robert Capato was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. Before he began cancer treatment, he had his sperm frozen and deposited in a sperm bank. After Robert died, his wife Karen carried out the couple's plan to conceive via IVF with Robert's sperm. She gave birth to twins and filed for survivors benefits for the children based on her late husband's social security taxes. the Social Security Administration denied the claim on the grounds that state intestacy law controls eligibility for survivor benefits for posthumously conceived children under the Social Security Act. The state law bars children conceived posthumously from inheritance unless they are named in a will, which the twins were not. Thus, because the couple lived in Florida and could not inherit under Florida state law, they were ineligible for benefits. The ruling was affirmed by an Administrative Law Judge and by a district court.
The case wound its way up to the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, which reversed the ruling and said the plain language of the 1939 Social Security Act confers benefits on all biological offspring of a married couple. The government appealed the ruling, and the Supreme Court agreed last November to hear the case.
Petitioner Michael J. Astrue, Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, is arguing that the Social Security Act requires the agency to apply state intestacy laws to determine whether an applicant is the child of an insured wage earner for the purpose of receiving survivor benefits. The government argued that since 1940, the Social Security Administration determined a child's eligibility for survivors benefits based on whether that child can inherit under state law.
Respondent Karen Capato contends that the Social Security Act is unambiguous and entitles undisputed biological children of married parents to survivor benefits without referring to state intestacy laws.
Reports say the Supreme Court Justices voiced doubts over whether children conceived after a parent's death are entitled to benefits. Some of the questions brought up yesterday includes whether a child conceived with IVF can be properly called a survivor since the child never lived with or was dependent on the deceased and whether Capato's children conceived with IVF would still qualify for survivors benefits if she had remarried?
The Social Security Administration says it has 100 similar claims pending, but it has turned down all such claims.
Let us hear your thoughts on the case. Should children conceived after a parent's death be entitled to Social Security death benefits? Leave a comment here or on Facebook.