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Inheritance Rights For Children Born Through IVF Signed Into Law

A woman sits at at table and reads through a stack of papers
Mississippi State Rep. Dana McLean, R-Columbus, said she has worked since she first entered office in 2019 to get a bill passed protecting inheritance rights for children conceived through IVF after a parent dies. Gov. Tate Reeves signed her bill into law on Monday, May 13, 2024.. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

Columbus, Miss., resident Katie McDill Studdard and her late husband, Chris McDill, tried to conceive a baby through fertility treatments before he died of cancer at age 33 in 2017, but did not have any luck. Over a year after he passed away, Studdard conceived her daughter, Elyse McDill, through IVF.

Although Elyse McDill is Chris McDill’s biological daughter, she has not been able to claim his inheritance from Social Security; the State does not recognize her as his legal child since her mother conceived her through IVF after the child’s father died.

Current Mississippi law does not provide inheritance rights for children conceived through IVF after one or both parents died, but that may soon change. Not only has Elyse McDill not been able to receive any survivor benefits from her father’s death, but Katie McDill Studdard has not received benefits for caring for her late husband’s legal child.

But House Bill 1542, which Gov. Tate Reeves signed into law on Monday, May 13, could give inheritance rights to children conceived through assisted reproductive technology after one of their parents died. Rep. Dana McLean, R-Columbus, has been trying to get this bill on the books since 2019 when voters first elected her to serve the constituents of District 39; Studdard shared her story with the representative years ago.

“Children born through IVF of course inherit from both parents, but not after one of the parents is deceased,” McLean told the Mississippi Free Press on May 2.

No Protections for IVF Treatments

In the wake of an Alabama Supreme Court ruling on legal protections for embryos that imperiled access to IVF treatments earlier this year, some Mississippi Republicans and Democrats made efforts to enshrine protections for IVF and other assisted reproduction technologies in law.

After negotiations between House and Senate members on H.B. 1542, an April 27 conference report added protections for assisted reproductive technology, including IVF and surrogacy. Under that proposal, not only would children like Elyse McDill have inheritance rights protected, but law enforcement would not have been able to charge a person with a crime if an unimplanted embryo died or suffered damage during the IVF process.

Mississippi governor state reeves speaking at a podium in front of a state seal
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves signed H.B. 1542 into law on Monday, May 13, 2024. AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis

The bill also clarified that health-care providers can legally provide reproductive technology treatments to patients.

“We had decided to put protections in there for couples who are utilizing IVF, and we just wanted to have protections in there because of what happened in Alabama where the clinics ended up being shut down for a while. People were in the middle of cycles,” McLean said. “We ended up also having provisions as well as IVF for surrogacy within the bill.”

The April 27 conference report also included a section that would have outlined a gestational carrier agreement, which terminates parental rights for the person who provided the embryo or sperm used for assisted reproduction and IVF treatments. It said the intended parent, who is the person receiving the embryo, would have full parental responsibility for the child at birth, “regardless of any impairment of the child.” People who donate eggs, sperm and embryos could also receive “reasonable compensation” for their donation under the conference report.

But on April 29, the House and Senate released a second conference report for the bill that stripped the amendments because some doctors approached the Senate with concerns about some of the language in the first conference report, McLean said. She did not offer specifics on what those concerns were.

McLean: Hearings on IVF Protections Coming

Mississippi law does not have specific codes that protect access to assisted reproductive technology nor codes that address surrogacy. McLean said she wanted to try again next year to add those protections.

“When we’re out of session, (we’ll) have some hearings on IVF, bring some doctors in, maybe bring some families that have used IVF and see what we need to put in code for those protections. Also surrogacy. We have no statutes on the books regarding surrogacy.”

The conferees included Rep. Joey Hood, R-Ackerman; Rep. Shanda Yates, I-Jackson; Rep. Dana McLean, R-Columbus; Sen. Brice Wiggins, R-Pascagoula; Sen. Tyler McCaughn, R-Newton; and Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall.

On May 1, the House passed the final version of the IVF inheritance bill by a 96-0 vote, with nine members voting present; the Senate approved it by a 24-1 vote on the same day. Another 26 senators voted present.

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