Court: Arizona Court of Appeals
Citation: Jeter v. Mayo Clinic Arizona, 121 P.3d 1256 (Ariz.App. Div. 1 2005)
Status as current law: Probable
Value as precedent: Low

Case significance:

In Arizona, statutes that protect persons, such as the wrongful death statute, will not be interpreted by the courts to grant personhood status to frozen embryos. The legislature may grant such protection in the statute if it chooses to do so by explicitly defining the word person to include frozen embryos.

Case Summary:


“[G]iven the current unsettled discussion over when life begins in this context, it is best left to the Arizona Legislature, not the courts, to decide whether to include a three-day-old, eight-cell cryopreserved pre-embryo within the statutory definition of ‘person’ under the wrongful death statutes.” 121 P.3d 1261

“Unlike a viable fetus, many variables affect whether a fertilized egg outside the womb will eventually result in the birth of a child. This makes it speculative at best to conclude that ‘but for the injury’ to the fertilized egg a child would have been born and therefore entitled to bring suit for the injury.” 121 P.3d 1262

“It is important to understand what the Jeters argue. Neither in the superior court nor in this Court did the Jeters claim that they had evidence to support a view that a cryopreserved pre-embryo fits within the definition of a viable fetus as discussed in Summerfield, that is, an entity which can presently survive to birth outside of the womb. Rather, relying on various treatises, the Jeters contend that medical science has so advanced since the supreme court decided Summerfield, that as a matter of law and statutory construction, this Court should expand the definition of a ‘person’ articulated in Summerfield to allow wrongful death actions for the loss of cryopreserved three-day-old eight-celled pre-embryos because they have the potential to become viable. They contend those medical advances allow such pre-embryos to maintain ‘extrauterine’ life via the cryopreservation process.” 121 P.3d 1265

This case cites to these authorities:

Summerfield v. Superior Court, 698 P.2d 712 (Ariz. 1985)
The word “person” in Arizona’s wrongful death statute includes a viable fetus.

Maienschein, Jane, Whose View of Life? Embryos, Cloning and Stem Cells, Harvard University Press, Cambridge MA (2003)

This case was cited in:

Brobst, Jennifer A., The Prospect of Enacting an Unborn Victims of Violence Act in North Carolina, 28 N.C. Cent. L.J. 127, 171 (2006)