Court Sides With Millionaire in Wild Egg-Donor Custody Case

·4 min read
Vivien Killilea/Getty
Vivien Killilea/Getty

An Oregon developer and patron of the arts has been declared the sole parent of a boy conceived with his sperm and his ex-girlfriend’s donated eggs—stripping her of any rights to the child.

A ruling by the state appeals court overturned a lower court decision that both Jordan Schnitzer, 70, and Cory Sause, 42, had parental rights to the 5-year-old.

The 2-1 appellate opinion declared that Sause gave up any claim to male embryos when she agreed to donate her eggs to help Schnitzer, who already had two daughters, sire a son.

While Schnitzer’s lawyer hailed the ruling as a victory for anyone using assisted reproductive technology to build a family, Sause planned to see the child for possibly the last time.

“I can’t even describe not hearing him calling me ‘Mommy’ or not knowing when I’m going to see him again,” she told The Oregonian. “My heart breaks for him.”

Connecticut Court Rules Woman Can Destroy Embryos Ex-Hubby Wanted to Donate

According to the court filing, Schnitzer—whose name is on several art museums—tried to father a son with his sperm and an anonymous egg donor but the procedures failed.

While he was dating Sause, she decided to have her own eggs retrieved—and then discussed the possibility of gifting them to Schnitzer; any male embryos would be his, and any females would be hers.

The in vitro fertilization produced only male embryos, however, and Schnitzer used a surrogate to gestate his son. By the time of the birth, the couple had broken up and Sause claims she was only allowed to see the baby once that day.

She went to court for the right to be legally recognized as his mother.

“Sause testified about her conversations with Schnitzer and acknowledged that he had made it clear that he wanted to have sole physical custody and wanted to raise the child,” the appellate judges wrote.

“Sause explained, however, that, although it was clear that the child would not live with her, it had never occurred to her that she would not be known as the child’s mother. Rather, she understood that she would be actively involved and that Schnitzer welcomed the thought of her as a part of the child’s life. She told him that she would not seek financial payments from him and that she would give him custody.”

In ruling for Schnitzer, the court majority wrote: “We agree with the trial court that, although genetics provide a connection to the child that a biological stranger does not have, Sause’s genetic connection alone did not confer parental rights. We disagree, however, that Sause made the requisite additional showing to acquire those rights.”

The dissenting judge, though, felt Sause had made the effort to show she intended to be more than just an egg donor.

“Sause ‘made plans for a nursery in her home in anticipation of playing a visiting parent role’ and texted Schnitzer that she had told the painter that her ‘hearts (sic) set on boys’ when the painter commented on her choice of blue walls for the nursery,” the judge wrote.

“Schnitzer asked Sause if she was ‘going to be ready for a baby’ when she was babysitting a friend’s child, and he told her ‘you are always in denial about your maternal instincts…this is our baby’ when Sause expressed surprise that she ‘[could]n’t stop thinking about cribs.’”

Schnitzer’s lawyer, Laurel Hook, told The Oregonian that the court’s ruling “removes any doubt for the thousands of individuals and couples who have used Assisted Reproductive Technology to fulfill their dreams of having a child.

“The 46-page ruling states that Cory Sause was never a mother. This is in accordance with current Oregon law that egg donors and sperm donors are not mothers and fathers.”

Sause said a representative of Schnitzer told her he was cutting her off from all contact with the child—which she refuses to accept.

“It just seems so cruel,” she told the newspaper. “How broken our system is to allow the creation of a bond and to have it taken away... He’s never going to lose me, and I’m never going to stop fighting to see him.”

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