Ruby Torres’ breast cancer diagnosis not only changed the course of her life but also laid the foundation for recognizing embryonic personhood in Arizona. In June 2014, Torres, an Arizona attorney, discovered she had an aggressive form of breast cancer. Upon learning that cancer treatment could leave her infertile, Torres and her now ex-husband, John Joseph Terrell, decided to undergo in-vitro fertilization (“IVF”) treatment. Torres hoped IVF treatment would allow her to have biologically-related children down the road. Although Torres eventually beat her cancer and is now in remission, her marriage ended in a divorce and bitter dispute over what to do with the cryopreserved embryos.
During Torres’ divorce proceedings in 2017, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Ronee Steiner faced the unprecedented question of how to deal with the couple’s disputed embryos. Based on the couple’s IVF contract, in which the couple consented to a court deciding how to dispose of their embryos in the case of divorce, and the couple’s disagreement over what to do with the embryos, Judge Steiner decided to balance the couple’s interests. In her analysis, Judge Steiner weighed Torres’ interest in having a biologically-related child with Terrell’s interest in not becoming a biological parent with Torres.