Should babies conceived after the death of the father by IVF or artificial insemination receive survivor benefits?
Eighteen months after Robert Capato died of esophageal cancer, his wife, Karen, gave birth to twins who were conceived by artificial insemination.
On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments to decide whether the twins are eligible for Social Security survivor benefits.
The Astrue v. Capato case is one of about 100 similar cases brought to the Social Security Administration by children born by artificial insemination after the death of their father, according to NPR. With in vitro technology increasing in popularity, the case has grabbed a lot of attention from the media.
The Washington Post said that while a decision won't be made until this summer, the justices seemed disinclined to award survivor benefits to the Capato twins -- partly because the survivor benefits laws don't translate well to modern reproductive technology like artificial insemination. The justices are guided only by a 1939 federal law for a "child or legally adopted child." The law says that it's up to state laws to determine whether the benefit seeker is eligible to inherit property.
"I think the problem is that we're dealing with new technologies that Congress...wasn't anticipating at the time," said Charles A. Rothfeld, the Capatos' attorney.
"It's a mess," Justice Elena Kagan told The Washington Post.
Checking the twins' eligibility to inherit seems simple enough, especially since Karen and Robert Capato signed a notarized statement that any children "born to us, who were conceived by the use of our embryos" shall in all aspects be their children and entitled to their property, The Washington Post said. However, the statement was not included in Robert Capato's will at the time of his death -- preventing the children from being able to legally inherit under Florida law.
The Social Security Administration originally rejected the twins on the grounds that their father would have to been alive during their conception in order to receive survivor benefits, hence the term "survivor." A federal court judge said they had to qualify as Capato's children before his death to be considered "dependents," or qualify under state inheritance law as children who could legally inherit.
"There is no question that children who are born, who are conceived naturally in the marriage and are born after the father's death are deemed to be dependents and receive benefits," Rothfeld told The Associate Press. "So I don't think that the fact the child was born after death says dispositively that they were not dependent."
The 3rd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia ruled in favor of the twins, saying that the twins were clearly biological children of Robert Capato and should receive survivor benefits. Other federal appellate courts disagreed, and the Obama administration appealed to the Supreme Court.