A set of 10-year-old twins from Portage, Mich., who were conceived after their father had died from complications from lupus, are now at the center of a state Supreme Court case to determine whether they are entitled to his benefits.
Attorneys representing the twins' mother, Pamela Mattison, and the Social Security Administration will argue on Thursday in front of the state Supreme Court over whether children conceived after the death of a father, through in vitro fertilization or other means, should be entitled to survivors' benefits.
The twins were conceived after their father, Jeffrey Mattison, died from complications from lupus in 2001, according to documents filed in the case. He had stored sperm in a bank while undergoing chemotherapy, and his wife, Pamela, had been preparing her body for in vitro fertilization months before his death in January, according to Pamela's attorney.
"The basic argument is that we need to look at conception as being a process, which started with preparing the mother for harvesting of eggs (and goes) all the way through conception, almost a year," said Victor Bland, the lawyer representing Pamela. Bland said Jeffrey Mattison "died with probably 75 percent of the process done."
Pamela conceived the two children at the end of January, weeks after Jeffrey died. When she tried to claim survivor benefits for them after they were born, however, the Social Security Administration denied her request, saying that they were not entitled to the money. Bland said the payments come to a "few hundred per month."
Pamela Mattison filed a federal lawsuit against the administration in 2001, because the SSA is a federal agency, according to Bland. But because Michigan had no prior state law on the issue, Bland said he was asked by a U.S. Attorney if he would let the case go to the state supreme court. He agreed.
On Thursday, the court will hear arguments on the issue, known as a certified question, which will determine the law in Michigan. It will become one of only a handful of states who have tackled the survivor issue as it relates to after-death conception.
"Michigan intestacy law requires that heirs be alive when the descendent dies, and that heirs survive the descendent," the U.S. Attorney representing the SSA wrote in a brief. "Children conceived after the death of their father, like M.J. and M.L.M., do not meet these requirements, and therefore, cannot inherent intestate."
The prosecutors pointed to other states, including New Hampshire, Iowa, Arkansas and Florida, that have ruled that children conceived after the death of a parent cannot inherit.
Bland pointed to a federal district court ruling from the 9th District which supported his position, but acknowledged that he faced an "uphill battle."
Bland said that the Mattisons hope to have finality from the Supreme Court's decision, whichever way it falls, and to remain out of the public eye.
Ryan Cobb, attorney for the Social Security Administration, was not available for comment.