Twins conceived in Florida from the frozen sperm of their father who died 18 months before their birth are not entitled to survivors benefits, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday.
The twins’ mother, Karen Capato, became pregnant through in vitro fertilization after the death of her husband, Robert Capato, from cancer in 2002. The Social Security Administration rejected her claim for Social Security survivors benefits, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in a 9-0 vote.
“Tragic circumstances gave rise to this case,” Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote.
But the Social Security Act Congress passed in 1935, she wrote, calls for resolution of Karen Capato’s application for child’s insurance benefits to come under state law. “We cannot replace that reference by creating a uniform federal rule the statute’s text scarcely supports.”
Under Florida law, a child may inherit property from a deceased parent only if the child was conceived during the parent’s lifetime.
Ginsburg’s ruling interprets the Social Security Act, signed 77 years ago, for an era in which sperm and eggs can be frozen and stored indefinitely.
“The technology that made the twins’ conception and birth possible, it is safe to say, was not contemplated by Congress,” she wrote.
The first “test tube baby,” Louise Brown, was born in 1978.
Ginsburg said other states may take a different approach, adding that posthumously conceived children can inherit property in California “if the child is in utero within two years of a parent’s death.”
A bill in the Maryland legislature would allow children born within two years of a biological parent’s death to receive inheritance, as long as the parent consented in writing.