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As American troops shipped out to the Middle East earlier this year for the war with Iraq, a new twist on modern technology made its way into the news: Many of the men were leaving behind sperm. They stored it with the goal of impregnating their wives and future wives in the event that chemical or biological warfare — or even death — hindered their reproductive capabilities. In many cases, clinics offered their services for free. “I just hope [the soldiers were] aware of the law,” says Nancy Hart, an associate with Wells, Peyton, Greenberg & Hunt. If a child is conceived from the sperm after the death of the father, that child may have legal issues unless the father signed papers stating his consent, Hart says. Hart isn’t just a concerned observer – she understands the issues firsthand. And she’s aiming to make for herself a unique legal niche out of her experience. Her husband, Edward, an aerospace engineer who helped test space shuttle engines, died in 1990. He had earlier been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus and, fearing the effect of chemotherapy, had sperm frozen and stored. Hart got pregnant using the frozen sperm and gave birth to a daughter. Hart had to battle for a birth certificate listing Edward as the father. She fought the Social Security Administration to recognize the daughter as his beneficiary. As a result, Hart sought legislative changes in Louisiana, where she lived at the time, to help clarify the standing of such children. A concert pianist for 21 years, these battles led Hart to change her career tune. She sold her grand piano to help pay for law school and earned her J.D. from South Texas College of Law in 1999 and a LLM in tax from Tulane University School of Law in 2000. Landing with Beaumont’s Wells, Peyton, Hart plowed ahead with a practice in probate, tax, estate-planning and guardianship issues while waiting for the kinds of cases she really wanted. That chance finally came in 2002 with McBride v. Elizabeth. Hart represents a Houston couple involved in a dispute over the ownership of embryos. As alleged, an egg donor, Elizabeth, had specified in writing that her eggs were only to be used by a couple outside of Texas known as Mr. and Mrs. Doe. But the eggs were allegedly used by doctors for a Texas couple instead, and the eggs were successfully fertilized with the husband’s sperm. Those embryos are in storage while the issue of who owns them is decided in court. The husband whose sperm fertilized the eggs sued Elizabeth, along with a doctor and the clinic involved; Elizabeth sued the couple. The cases were consolidated and are pending in a Houston court. As reproductive technology advances and reproductive procedures become more common, Hart believes the frequency of such cases will continue to grow. And with laws on the books remaining muddled, they will continue to be complex until, she says, the law can catch up with medicine.

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